Syrian forces raid towns, EU mulls sanctions
Amman, August 24, 2011
Syrian forces killed one person and arrested dozens in raids on an eastern tribal region on Wednesday as part of a crackdown on dissent which could lead to European Union oil sanctions on Damascus as early as next week.
A force of more than 20 tanks and other armoured vehicles entered neighbourhoods in the town of Mayadeen and nearby village of Alburhama before withdrawing, activists said.
"They are mainly hit-and-run raids. The military is trying to avoid reprisals from the population, which is heavily armed. So they go in quickly to arrest people, sabotaging houses of wanted activists they cannot find," an activist said by phone.
An oil embargo would constitute a major step for the European Union, where several governments have been reluctant so far to target Assad's oil industry because of concerns over potential damage to their commercial interests.
It would also cut off a major source of foreign currency for Syria, which exports over a third of its 385,000 barrels per day oil output to Europe -- mainly the Netherlands, Italy, France and Spain -- accounting for the bulk of its oil exports.
"The whole process could be completed by the end of next week if all goes according to plan," the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
After the apparent collapse of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's rule in the face of rebels backed by Nato strikes, Western nations may be encouraged to step up moves against Assad.
No state has proposed military intervention in Syria, but France said it wanted more pressure on Damascus and the Qatar called for an end to the violence, in which the United Nations says 2,200 people have been killed.
The Arab League said it would hold an urgent meeting on Saturday to discuss Syria.
The moves came a day after Western nations circulated a draft resolution at the United Nations calling for sanctions against Assad, members of his family and associates.
The resolution - drafted by Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and the United States - calls for freezing financial assets of Assad and 22 other Syrians. The resolution, obtained by Reuters, also calls for a ban on weapons sales to Syria.
But Russia, a major arms supplier to Syria which has veto power over U.N. resolutions, said it was not time for sanctions on Damascus. China, South Africa, Brazil and India also have indicated they would have trouble supporting punitive measures.
France for tougher sanctions
"On the Syrian question, France reaffirms its wish to see tougher sanctions," government spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse told a news briefing in Paris.
"We would like to see greater pressure from the United Nations, from the international community, on Syria for a democratic transition."
French President Nicolas Sarkozy may discuss the draft U.N. resolution when he meets Chinese President Hu Jintao in Beijing on Thursday.
Qatar said violence in Syria must be halted -- whoever was committing it -- and Assad must implement political change.
"The Syrian leadership announced reforms. It is important to set a timetable for their implementation and stop the bloodbath in Syria, whichever side carried it out," Prime Minister Sheikh Hama bin Jassim al-Thani said.
Authorities blame the violence on armed groups, who they say have killed 500 soldiers and police.
State news agency SANA said on Wednesday the mutilated bodies of 14 people killed by "armed terrorist groups" had been admitted to a hospital in the city of Homs. It said some were shot in the head and others were burned or stabbed.
Syria has expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify accounts on the ground.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said two people were killed in the town of Talbiseh on Wednesday when security forces opened fire on demonstrators.
The UN Human Rights Council launched an international commission of inquiry into Assad's crackdown, condemning what it called "continued grave and systematic human rights violations by Syrian authorities such as arbitrary executions, excessive use of force and the killing and persecution of protesters and human rights defenders."
In its latest round of sanctions, the EU on Monday imposed asset freezes and visa bans on 15 Syrians, including senior military intelligence and police officials.
The EU diplomat said there was no agreement among EU members on criteria that would allow it to broaden existing sanctions that target specific companies in Syria with asset freezes.
Last week governments agreed to discuss ways to include sectors such as banking, telecoms and energy in EU measures banning European companies from doing business with targeted firms.-Reuters