Syrian forces killed at least five people on Thursday in an assault on two
northern towns, as Damascus pushes ahead in its counterinsurgency campaign
despite new US sanctions and regional calls to end the bloodshed.
RELATED:Syrian forces kill 11 in swoop on northern towns Assad admits 'some mistakes,' Europe warns of UN steps
United States, saying the world was watching “in horror,” imposed sanctions on
Wednesday on a Syrian state bank and on Syria’s biggest mobile telephone
company, to target the financial infrastructure propping up President Bashar
Assad’s autocratic rule.
Regional powers Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt
have all added pressure on Assad to stop the violence, although no country has
proposed the kind of military intervention being carried out by NATO forces
against Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip
Erdogan said on Wednesday that tanks have begun leaving the Syrian central city
of Hama, and that Ankara expects the Assad government to start reforms within 15
Erdogan said Turkey had told Syria in talks on Tuesday to end the
“In Syria, the state is pointing guns at its own
people,” he said. “Turkey’s message to Assad is very clear: Stop all kinds of
violence and bloodshed.”
Addressing a meeting of his ruling AK Party,
Erdogan called on Damascus to meet the democracy demands of the Syrian
“We hope that all will be realized in 10-15 days, and steps taken
toward the reform process in Syria.”
At least 1,700 civilians have been
killed in the unrest, rights groups say, and a series of military assaults on
cities and town since the start of Ramadan 10 days ago has sharpened
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said
it had the names of five people killed and 16 wounded in morning raids by
security forces backed by tanks on Qusair, near the Lebanon border, after
overnight anti-government protests. Another activist group, the Syrian Revolution
Coordinating Union, said it had identified at least nine people, including a
woman and a baby, killed by random gunfire in Qusair.
Around 14 tanks and
armored vehicles also swept into Saraqeb, a town on Syria’s main north-south
highway that has seen daily demonstrations, and 100 people were arrested by the
security forces, residents said by telephone.
Syria’s north, particularly
Idlib province abutting Turkey, has been one of the hotbeds of the
demonstrations across the country for more political freedoms.
Wednesday, European members of the Security Council warned Syria that it could
face tougher UN action if Assad continued the onslaught, while Russia urged
Damascus to implement promised reforms as soon as possible.
and China, both with veto powers in the Council and backed by India, South
Africa and Brazil, have vehemently opposed the idea of slapping UN sanctions on
Damascus, which Western diplomats say would be the logical next
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said Moscow had made clear to
Damascus that Assad should follow through on reform promises as swiftly as
“They need to have serious reforms as soon as possible, even
though we do realize that it takes time, especially in a dramatic situation like
this,” he said. Asked if he thought the new US sanctions on Syria were helpful,
Churkin said, “No.”
Envoys of Britain, France, Germany and Portugal spoke
to reporters after a closed-door session of the 15-nation council convened to
assess Syria’s compliance with last week’s call by the world body for “an
immediate end to all violence.” They said the Syrian leadership has ignored that
Despite the worsening bloodshed, there appears to be little
prospect that Western states will put teeth in their sanctions on Assad any time
soon by targeting Syria’s vital oil industry, because of vested commercial
interests abroad against doing so.
CNN, quoting US administration
officials, reported on Thursday that the Obama administration is set over the
coming days to issue the first explicit demand for regime change in
Washington had been criticized for failing to demand Assad’s
resignation earlier, although it has hinted it sought such an outcome after
declaring that he was losing his legitimacy as Syria’s leader.
envoy Bashar Ja’afari referred to ongoing street riots in Britain to highlight
what he described as Western double standards.
“It’s indicative and
informative to hear the prime minister of England describing the rioters there
by using the term ‘gangs,’ while they don’t let us use the same term for the
armed groups and terrorist groups in my country,” Ja’afari told reporters
outside a Security Council meeting. “This is hypocrisy; this is
Britain’s deputy ambassador to the UN called the comparison
“In the United Kingdom, the government is taking proportionate,
legal, transparent steps to ensure the rule of law,” Philip Parham said. “In
Syria, you have a situation where thousands of unarmed civilians are being
killed. That comparison made by the Syrian ambassador is
Reuters contributed to this report.