Syrian Tank 311.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
BEIRUT - At least 20 people were killed in renewed fighting in Syria on Thursday, an activist group said, and the European Union imposed sanctions on the country's biggest state bank which bankers say holds much of the country's foreign reserves.
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The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 civilians were killed in the northern province of Idlib when soldiers loyal to President Bashar Assad stormed the town of Binish and fought battles with gunmen and army deserters.
In the southern province of Deraa, where the six-month wave of protests against Assad first erupted, six soldiers and two army deserters were killed in a clash in the town of Haara, alongside one civilian, the group said. Another soldier was killed in Homs.
Diplomats in Brussels said the European Union agreed on Thursday to add
to its sanctions list the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria which
bankers say holds much of Syria's foreign reserves, estimated at $17
billion at the start of the year.
Washington imposed sanctions on the bank in August.
The global campaign groups Avaaz welcomed the move. "It effectively
shuts off Assad's business dealings in Europe and is critical to cutting
off his bloody pay roll for the brutal reign of terror," Avaaz campaign
director Alice Jay said.
An EU statement, which did not identify the bank, said the 27-nation
bloc sought to ensure that legitimate trade was affected as little as
"Our measures are not aimed at the Syrian people, but aim to deprive the
regime of financial revenues and the support base necessary to maintain
the repression," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.
Syria blames the violence on foreign-backed armed groups who it says
have killed 1,100 people. Authorities have barred most foreign media,
making it difficult to verify accounts by activists and officials.
Russia and China, which blocked Western efforts to pass a United Nations
resolution which could have paved the way towards UN sanctions, say
they want to prevent foreign intervention in Syria but have called on
Assad to speed up reform.Increasing reports of attacks on security forces by gunmen
Most of the violence in recent days has occurred in Idlib, Deraa and the
city of Homs, where activists have reported clashes and gunfire since
Street protests against Assad's 11-year autocratic rule, inspired by
uprisings which have swept three North African leaders from power, have
been mainly peaceful but there have been increasing reports of attacks
on security forces by army defectors and gunmen.
The Syrian Observatory activist group said troops had opened fire late
on Thursday on a funeral in Binish for some of those killed earlier in
the day, including a young child and a female university student.
It also said there were reports that 25 pro-Assad troops had been killed
in Binish and said authorities were hiding the true extent of the
The group said it was "astonished at the silence of authorities over the
deaths of tens of soldiers from the regime's army" who it said were
killed in the provinces of Deraa, Deir al-Zor, Idlib and Homs. It said
the soldiers' bodies had not been returned to their families.
Assad told a delegation of pro-Syrian Lebanese politicians that the
country had "passed the most difficult stage" and would become a model
for the region, the state news agency SANA said.Gulf states call for Arab League meeting on Syrian bloodshed
Despite his confident comments, Assad faces growing regional pressure
over his crackdown on the protests. Neighboring Turkey, a former close
ally, says it plans to impose sanctions on Damascus and Gulf Arab states
called for an Arab League meeting to discuss the "dire" situation in
They said the meeting be should held at foreign ministers' level and
discuss the humanitarian situation in Syria, and study ways "to stop the
bloodshed and machine of violence".
Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani challenged the government
this week to reach agreement with a newly formed opposition national
council. Damascus says the body is illegitimate and warned other
countries against recognizing it.
In London, Britain's foreign ministry called in Syria's ambassador on
Thursday to protest about alleged intimidation of Syrian dissidents
there, Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
Rights group Amnesty International said this month Syrian diplomats in
foreign capitals are mounting campaigns of harassment and threats
against expatriate dissidents protesting outside Syrian embassies.