BEIRUT - The Syrian army moved tanks into the center of the city of Hama on Wednesday and also began shelling the town of Rastan, activists in Hama and Rastan said.

"At least 20 tanks are moving into the neighborhoods of Dabagha and Mugayly in the center of Hama city," an activist in Hama told Reuters.

From Rastan, on the highway between Homs and Hama, an activist said: "They have started heavily shelling Rastan now, like 20 minutes ago. They're using artillery."

The reports came less than an hour after Syrian state television quoted the Defense Ministry as saying army operations would cease on Thursday morning - the deadline for a ceasefire agreed between President Bashar Assad and UN peace envoy Kofi Annan.

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