Military reinforcements poured into the besieged southern Syrian town of Daraa yesterday, a day after Syrian President Bashar Assad unleashed deadly force to crush a months-old revolt, killing at least 65 people, while on Friday US President Barack Obama announced new sanctions against key Syrian figures.
Four tanks, 20 armored personnel carriers and a military ambulance rumbled into Daraa early in the morning, a resident of the city said.
Daraa, which is at the heart of a six-week-old uprising against the government, has been under siege since Monday when the government first sent in tanks to crush the daily demonstrations.
The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami -Abdul-Rahman, said 65 people were killed on Friday. with 36 deaths in Daraa Province, 27 in the central Homs region and one in Latakia and another in the Damascus countryside. Total civilian deaths since the uprising began has reached 535, he said.
Friday’s bloodshed came after demonstrators across the country again defied heavy military deployments, mass arrests and a ruthless crackdown on the biggest popular challenge to 48 years of authoritarian Baath Party rule.
Obama imposed new sanctions on Friday against Syrian figures, including a brother of Assad in charge of troops in Daraa, the first reprisal for Syria’s violent crackdown.
Obama signed an executive order imposing sanctions on the intelligence agency, Assad’s cousin Atif Najib and his brother Maher, who commands the army division which stormed into Daraa on Monday. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard was also targeted, accused of helping the Syrian crackdown.
“The sanctions that were announced today are intended to show the Syrian government that its behavior and actions are going to be held to account,” US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters.
Shortly after Obama’s move, EU diplomats said they had reached a preliminary agreement to impose an arms embargo on Syria and would “urgently consider further appropriate and targeted measures.” These, diplomats said, were understood to mean measures against individuals.
Obama’s sanctions, which include asset freezes and bans on US business dealings, build on US measures against Syria in place since 2004, but they may have little impact since Assad’s inner circle are thought to hold few US assets.
One official said the White House was “not ready” to call on Assad to step down because Obama and his aides “do not want to get out in front of the Syrian people.”
Also on Friday, nations agreed to launch a UN-led investigation of Syria’s crackdown, demanding that Damascus halt the violence, release political prisoners and lift media restrictions.
The Geneva-based Human Rights Council said it would ask the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send a mission to investigate “all alleged violations of international human rights law and to establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated.’’
UN officials said the killings may include crimes against humanity.