New anti-Syria measures threatened over crackdown

Clinton says US and EU planning "additional steps" in face of regime's violence; mass grave found in Deraa area as Assad deploys tanks nearby.

hillary clinton_311 reuters (photo credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentile)
hillary clinton_311 reuters
(photo credit: REUTERS/Tony Gentile)
The West warned of more pressure on Syria on Tuesday if a crackdown against protesters continues, hours after tanks stormed a city in the south, the cradle of a two-month uprising against the regime of President Bashar Assad.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that both the European Union and the United States – which have already slapped sanctions on a number of senior Syrian officials but not on President Bashar Assad – were planning more steps.
RELATED:Heavy gunfire in Syrian protest town; 7 reported dead
“We will be taking additional steps in the days ahead,” Clinton said, saying she agreed with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who told reporters that the time for Syria to make changes was now.
Rights activists say a crackdown to crush a two-month wave of protests against Assad has killed at least 700 civilians.
Syrian tanks moved into a southern city in the Hauran Plain on Tuesday after encircling it for three weeks, activists said.
Soldiers fired machine guns in the air as tanks and armored personnel carriers entered Nawa, a city of 80,000 people 60 km. north of the southern town of Deraa, according to activists from the region.
“The troops are now combing neighborhoods in Nawa and arresting scores of men,” one activist said.
In Deraa, tanks remained in the streets after the Old City was shelled into submission last month, and residents gave accounts of mass graves that the authorities denied.
The southern towns of Inkhil and Jassem remained also besieged, rights campaigners said, adding that mass arrests continued in the Hauran Plain and other regions of Syria.
Diplomatic pressure on Assad continues to grow. French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said on Tuesday that France and Britain were close to getting nine votes for a resolution on Syria at the UN Security Council, but Russia and China were threatening to use their vetoes. Half of Kuwait’s 50 lawmakers urged the Gulf Arab state on Tuesday to cut ties with Syria and expel its ambassador in protest at the violence to crush the protests.
“This is not going to be like Egypt and Tunisia, where people gather in a central square,” said Andrew Tabler, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“This is more scattered and it’s been going on longer, and that indicates it’s going to be extremely difficult for Assad to maintain control,” Tabler said. “Assad looked at what happened in Egypt and Tunisia, and decided he doesn’t want that to be him.”
Villagers near Deraa have found two separate graves containing up to 26 bodies, residents said, but Syrian authorities dismissed such reports as part of “campaign of incitement” that targeted the country.
Four residents said villagers had contacted the local civil defense after noticing two mounds of earth in wheat fields just outside Deraa’s Old City. Under the mounds were 22 to 26 decomposed corpses, they said.
Their reports could not be verified because authorities have barred most international media from operating in Syria.
Soldiers moved on Saturday into the town of Tel Kelakh, close to Lebanon’s northern border.
Human rights campaigners said scores of people had been arrested since Monday and that Assad’s forces were firing at several neighborhoods in the city of 30,000 people.
Citing witnesses, the Local Coordination Committees, an activists’ group, said several people were killed in Tuesday’s offensive, adding to 12 civilians already killed by army shelling, shooting and sniper fire in the past three days.
A Reuters correspondent on the Lebanese side of the border heard shooting and could see smoke rising from the village of Arida, which lies between Tel Kelakh and the border.
“They destroyed the houses, they cut electricity and water. The wounded are dying in our hands and the dead are strewn on the streets,” a Tel Kelakh resident said by telephone.
She said she was hiding in a basement with seven families.
State news agency SANA said security forces clashed with “wanted armed terrorist members” in Tel Kelakh on Monday, killing several and capturing others, and seizing weapons, ammunition and military uniform. Fifteen members of the security forces were wounded, it quoted a military source as saying.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there were also mass arrests in the cities of Homs, Deir al-Zor and Latakia, which security forces had “robbed of normality.”
The Facebook page Syria Revolution 2011 called for a general strike across Syria on Wednesday.
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