BEIRUT - Royal Dutch Shell said on Friday it would cease operations in
Syria to heed new European Union sanctions against Damascus, deepening
the international isolation of Syrian President Bashar Assad imposed over
his violent crackdown on popular unrest.
In the latest bloodshed,
Syrian army defectors killed eight Air Force intelligence personnel in
an attack on their base in the north of the country, according to an
US Treasury, Arab League and EU sanction Syria
Syria TV: Arab League sanctions 'unprecedented'
incident suggested that armed deserters are turning increasingly from
defending civilian protesters against violent repression by Assad's
security forces to an offensive of ambushes and roadside bombs, raising
the specter of civil war.
Western and Arab countries have been
intensifying punitive sanctions to press Assad to carry out pledges to
halt bloodshed by withdrawing forces from restive cities, stars
transition talks with the opposition and admit Arab League observers.
Dutch Shell said it was shutting down in Syria to heed a batch of EU
sanctions slapped on Syria's economically vital oil and financial
sectors the day before.
A Shell spokesman said: "Our main
priority is the safety of our employees ... We hope the situation
improves quickly for all Syrians."
EU on Friday extended sanctions to three Syrian oil concerns, including
the state-owned General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) and Syria Trading
Oil (Sytrol), to crank up the financial pressure on the Assad
The three oil concerns were among 11 entities and 12
Syrian leadership figures added to an EU blacklist now aimed in part at
bringing the Syrian ventures of oil giants to a halt. Royal Dutch Shell
was the first to bow out.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for international action
to protect Syria's civilian population from "continual ruthless
repression that, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a
full-fledged civil war".
More than 4,000 people have been killed, including 307 children, in the
military crackdown on unrest since March and more than 14,000 people are
believed to be held in detention, she told an emergency session of the
UN Human Rights Council.
"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect
their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and
effective measures to protect the Syrian people," Pillay said in Geneva.
"All acts of murder, torture and other forms of violence must be
She voiced disquiet at reports of increased armed attacks by the
opposition forces, including the so-called Free Syrian Army, against the
Syrian military and security apparatus.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and other
activists said at least 20 civilians were killed by Syrian security
forces across the country on Thursday, mainly in the provinces of Hama
and Homs - epicenter of the anti-Assad revolt.
The Observatory said the attack on Air Force intelligence took place in
Idlib province, between the towns of Jisr al-Shughour and the
Mediterranean port of Latakia.
"A clash ensued for three hours which led to the death of at least eight members of the Air Force Intelligence," it said.
The opposition organizes
The anti-Assad Syrian Free Army has formed a military council of nine
defecting officers. They issued a declaration pledging to "bring down
the regime and protect citizens from the repression ... and prevent
chaos as soon as the regime falls."
The main civilian opposition group, the Syrian National Council, held a
first meeting with Free Army leaders in Istanbul this week. A Council
spokeswoman said the Council only supports a peaceful uprising and the
Free Army is not its armed wing.
Syrian armed forces defectors began organizing three months ago and now number around 10,000, say opposition sources.
They cite increased operations in the last ten days by defectors and
insurgents in the central regions Hama and Homs, Idlib on the border
with Turkey, and the southern province of Deraa where armored convoys
have been attacked.
US Vice-President Joe Biden, on a visit to Ankara, praised Turkey for being "a real leader" on the Syrian crisis.
"We also welcome the government's giving space in Turkey to the political opposition," he told Hurriyet newspaper.
"The United States' position on Syria is clear. The Syrian regime must
end its brutality against its own people and President Assad must step
down so a peaceful transition that respects the will of the people can
take place," Biden said.
SANA said Syria had suspended a free trade zone pact with Turkey in
retaliation for Ankara's actions. Turkey, formerly a staunch ally of
Assad, has also suspended financial credit dealings with Syria and frozen Syrian government assets, joining the Arab and Western campaign to isolate Assad.
In Paris, French Interior Minister Claude Gueant said on Friday he had
taken steps to protect members of Syria's National Council in France
after recent threats.
"Given the troubles in Syria, we have seen a certain number of threats
on Syrian opponents," he told a press conference. "Measures to protect
them have been taken."
After a meeting with SNC chairman Burhan Ghalioun earlier this month,
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said Paris considered the group to
be the legitimate partner with which it wanted to work.