A wave of international condemnation of Syria’s repressive regime failed on Wednesday to halt a lethal crackdown on pro-democracy protesters as the United Nations Security Council prepared to resume talks on the crisis.
Five European countries summoned Syrian ambassadors to tell them to halt a clampdown in which the authorities were reported by activists to have launched a fresh wave of violence and arrests.
Western powers are scrambling for an effective response to President Bashar al-Assad’s effort to crush a five-week old uprising that – as in Libya – has marked a bloody turn for the so-called Arab Spring of revolts across the Middle East.
France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain all called in Syrian diplomats to tell them to hold back security forces, which activists say have deployed tanks and opened fire on peaceful demonstrators after so-called “great Friday” mass demonstrations across the country last week.
Britain said the Syrian government “must immediately halt all attacks against protesters and restrain the army and security forces”, adding that Syria was “at a fork in the road” and still had an opportunity to stop the violence and “follow the path of reform”.
More gunfire and explosions ripped through Deraa, the southern city where the uprising began on Wednesday, the Associated Press reported. Security forces were also deployed around the cities of Jableh, Homs, Moadamya and Hama, and the Damascus suburb of Douma, Rami Nakhle, a Syrian dissident who lives in Lebanon, told Bloomberg.
The reports are difficult to verify because the government has blocked access to trouble spots for journalists and other outsiders.
Ban Ki-moon, UN secretary-general, called for an external inquiry into the violence, which rights activists say has left more than 400 dead. The Security Council was resuming its debate on Syria on Wednesday, while the body’s human rights council was to follow suit on Friday at the request of the US.
Analysts have contrasted the force and speed of the international response towards the uprising in Libya, with the much more cautious approach to Syria, where some officials in the US and elsewhere are ambivalent about the fall of a regime they see as having overseen a measure of regional stability.
The US said earlier this week it was preparing “targeted sanctions” against government members and associates, while a number of European countries are considering similar action.
The European Union has called a meeting on Friday to discuss sanctions and other punitive measures. The External Action Service, the EU’s diplomatic corps, was working on Wednesday to finalise a paper with a list of possible options to circulate to diplomats ahead of the meeting.
European officials said they expected it would include travel bans and asset freezes for top Syrian officials – similar to measures the EU has recently applied against Belarus, the Ivory Coast and Libya. FT