Obama, Erdogan: Syrian gov't must end violence immediately

In phone call, US president and Turkish PM agree Assad should enact reforms, respect democratic aspirations of Syrian citizens; 500 protesters arrested and at least 20 killed in latest day of unrest.

obama and erdogan (photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
obama and erdogan
(photo credit: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters)
US President Barack Obama on Monday spoke by phone with Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan telling him the US expressed deep concern about the violence in Syria.
"The leaders agreed that the Syrian government must end the use of violence now and promptly enact meaningful reforms that respect the democratic aspirations of Syrian citizens," the White House said.
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Security forces arrested some 500 pro-democracy sympathizers across Syria after the government sent in tanks to try to crush protests in the city of Deraa, the Syrian rights organization Sawasiah said early Tuesday.
The independent organization said it had received reports that at least 20 people had been killed in Deraa since tanks moved in on Monday, but communications with the southern town where the protests against President Bashar al-Assad began on March 18 had been cut making it hard to confirm the information.
"Witnesses managed to tell us that at least 20 civilians have been killed in Deraa, but we do not have their names and we cannot verify," said a Sawasiah official, adding that two civilians were confirmed dead in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which forces entered earlier in the day.
At least 500 were arrested elsewhere in Syria, it said.
Amateur video showed soldiers and tanks deployed on the outskirts of Deraa early on Monday. In one clip, residents are heard saying of the troops, “Instead of fighting on the Golan, they’re fighting their own people.”
Syrian government officials accused Deraa residents of wishing their region to be annexed to Israel, Channel 2 reported.
The US announced Monday that it was considering sanctions against Syrian government officials to increase pressure on Assad to end the violent crackdown on protesters, a US official said.
The measures, which could freeze the officials' assets and ban them from doing business in the United States, would likely come in an executive order signed by US President Barack Obama, the US official said on condition of anonymity.
But a final decision has yet to be made and there was no word on whether Assad might be a target, the official said.
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Click for full Jpost coverage of turmoil in the Middle East
Britain, France, Germany and Portugal also asked the UN Security Council to condemn Syria's violent crackdown against protesters and to urge restraint by the government, council diplomats said on Monday.
But it was unclear whether Russia and China would support the idea. The two permanent veto-wielding council members have become increasingly critical of the UN-backed intervention to protect civilians in Libya, which UN diplomats say Moscow and Beijing worry aims at ousting Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Oren Kessler and JPost.com staff contributed to this report.