Syria sanctions declared as violent crackdown continues

EU to impose asset freezes and travel restrictions on Syrian officials involved in operation which has killed 500 people

Katherine Marsh in Damascus and agencies
Syrians demonstrating in Kofr Bel
Syrians demonstrating in Kofr Bel during a ‘day of defiance’ during which thousands rallied against the military’s crackdown. Photograph: YouTube screen grab/AFP/Getty Images
The EU agreed on Friday to impose sanctions on Syria next week to step up pressure on the regime as it persisted with its violent crackdown on protesters, killing at least 16 during a “day of defiance”.
European countries will formally announce the sanctions on Monday, imposing asset freezes and travel restrictions on top Syrian officials involved in a seven-week crackdown that has killed more than 500 by some estimates.
The crackdown has tested the courage of protesters and some in the movement had warned that it might even break their resolve. But many thousands turned out in 65 towns and cities across the country on Friday, according to activists. Video footage from several cities showed large crowds chanting “the people want to topple the regime” and “the martyr is loved by God”.
Perhaps the biggest protest was reported in the south, in the town of Jassem, close to the troubled city of Deraa. One video purportedly from the town showed thousands gathering and calling out “He who kills his people is a traitor” and “We sacrifice our blood and souls for you Deraa”.
State media have reported that the army is ending its military operation in Deraa, but the city is still shut off. A 15-member delegation from the International Committee of the Red Cross was allowed rare access to the city on Thursday. The UN said it had persuaded Syria to allow its teams to check on humanitarian conditions after the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, personally called the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad.
Death tolls have been hard to quantify. The London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least six people had been shot dead after security forces opened fire in Homs and Hama. The National Organisation for Human Rights in Syria put the toll at 16 people nationwide.

    Syrian state television said an army officer and four policemen were shot dead by a “criminal gang” in Homs.

    The regime also moved to round up prominent activists. Dissident and former political prisoner Riad Seif was arrested in the Damascus area of Midan, where protests broke out for the third week in a row. “My father was shoved into a bus with other protesters who were detained during the demonstration near the al-Hassan mosque,” his daughter Jumana told Reuters.

    As long as no member state objects, the EU’s decision to impose asset freezes and travel bans will go into effect next week. Like the US sanctions imposed last week they do not target Assad himself.

    Katherine Marsh is a pseudonym for a journalist living in Damascus

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