Syrian forces raided an eastern tribal region for a second day yesterday, activists said, extending a crackdown on pro-democracy protests that could lead to EU sanctions on the oil sector as early as next week.
Tanks and armored vehicles entered Shuhail, a town southeast of the provincial capital of Deir al-Zor, which has seen daily protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s rule since the start of the fasting month of Ramadan, they said.
“Initial reports by residents describe tens of tanks firing randomly as they stormed the town at dawn. Shuhail has been very active in protests and the regime is using overwhelming force to frighten the people,” a local activist said.
Meanwhile, security forces attacked a renowned anti-regime cartoonist early yesterday in Damascus and left him bleeding along the side of a road, human rights activists said.
Ali Farzat, who is in his 60s, was hospitalized after passers-by found him “heavily beaten and physically abused,” said Omar Idilbi, a spokesman for the Local Coordination Committees, an activist group that helps organize and track the five-month-old uprising in Syria.
Farzat has said he had great hopes for Assad when he became president in 2000, but in recent years he has become a vehement critic of the regime, particularly as the military launches a brutal crackdown on the country’s protest movement.
Syria has expelled most independent journalists, making it difficult to verify accounts on the ground.
“Bye, bye Qaddafi, your turn is coming Bashar,” protesters chanted after prayers in the Damascus suburb of Duma, according to a video filmed by residents, jubilant at the apparent collapse of Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi’s rule in the face of Libyan rebels backed by NATO air strikes.
EU diplomats said on Wednesday that the bloc’s governments were likely to impose an embargo on imports of Syrian oil by the end of next week to raise pressure on Assad, although new sanctions may be less stringent than those imposed by Washington.
A senior diplomat based in the Middle East said an oil embargo could rattle business alliances between the ruling family, from Syria’s minority Alawite sect, and a Sunni merchant class influential in Damascus and the commercial hub of Aleppo, who have generally not supported the uprising.
“If the merchants see their business interests take a hit and a specter of economic collapse looming they may start thinking more about switching sides. The treasury will be also under more pressure to print money,” the diplomat said.
Syria exports more than a third of its 385,000 barrels of daily crude oil output to Europe. Eastern Syria, including the Kurdish northeast, produces the entire nation’s oil. A disruption would cut off a major source of foreign currency that helps to finance the security apparatus, and restrict funds at Assad’s disposal to reward loyalists and continue a crackdown in which the UN says 2,200 people have been killed.