At least 20 people were killed in renewed fighting in Syria on Thursday, an activist group said, and the EU imposed sanctions on the country’s biggest state bank, which bankers say holds much of the country’s foreign reserves.
The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 10 civilians were killed in the northern province of Idlib when soldiers loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad stormed the town of Binish and fought battles with gunmen and army deserters.
In the southern province of Deraa, where the six-month wave of protests against Assad first erupted, six soldiers and two army deserters were killed in a clash in the town of Haara, alongside one civilian, the group said. Another soldier was killed in Homs.
The UN yesterday said that the crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations that began in March has resulted in more than 3,000 deaths, including at least 187 children.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement demanding that the world act to stop the carnage.
The US and EU have imposed sanctions on Syrian oil exports and several businesses, and pushed — so far in vain — for UN sanctions.
Diplomats in Brussels said the EU agreed on Thursday to add to its sanctions list the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria which bankers say holds much of -Syria’s foreign reserves, estimated at US$17 billion at the start of the year.
Washington imposed sanctions on the bank in August.
The global campaign group Avaaz welcomed the move.
“It effectively shuts off Assad’s business dealings in Europe and is critical to cutting off his bloody pay roll for the brutal reign of terror,” Avaaz campaign director Alice Jay said.
Syria blames the violence on foreign-backed armed groups who it says have killed 1,100 people. Authorities have barred most foreign media, making it difficult to verify accounts by activists and officials.
Russia and China, which blocked Western efforts to pass a UN resolution which could have paved the way towards sanctions, say they want to prevent foreign intervention in Syria but have called on Assad to speed up reform.
Most of the violence in recent days has occurred in Idlib, Deraa and the city of Homs, where activists have reported clashes and gunfire since Sunday.
Street protests against Assad’s 11-year rule have been mainly peaceful but there have been increasing reports of attacks on security forces by army defectors and gunmen.
The Syrian Observatory said troops opened fire late on Thursday on a funeral in Binish for some of those killed earlier in the day, including a young child and a female university student.
It also said there were reports that 25 pro-Assad troops had been killed in Binish and said authorities were hiding the true extent of the army’s losses.
The group said it was “astonished at the silence of authorities over the deaths of tens of soldiers from the regime’s army” who it said were killed in the provinces of Deraa, Deir al-Zor, Idlib and Homs. It said the soldiers’ bodies had not been returned to their families.
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