US, Britain Call for Tougher Sanctions on Syria

Posted September 1st, 2011 at 6:00 pm (UTC-5)
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The United States and Britain are calling for a tougher stance over Syria's bloody crackdown on protesters, demanding tough new international sanctions to force President Bashar Assad from office.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday the world community should escalate pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by targeting the country's oil and gas exports. Clinton repeated U.S. calls for Mr. Assad to step down and make way for a democratic transition.

She urged those who have joined Washington's stand against the authoritarian leader to “translate rhetoric into concrete action.” The top U.S. diplomat, speaking in Paris, said tough new sanctions against Syria's energy sector would deny the government “revenues that fund its campaign of violence” against pro-democracy protesters.

Earlier Thursday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said European Union officials are preparing to discuss sanctions on Syria's oil sector as a way of pressuring Damascus to stop its deadly crackdown on dissent. Hague said there is a “real prospect” that EU officials meeting in Poland later this week will agree to ban the sale of Syrian oil to the 27-nation bloc.

The EU has joined the United States in tightening sanctions against Syria in recent weeks and calling for Mr. Assad to resign.

Meanwhile, Damascus appears to have suffered a setback with the first apparent defection of a prominent official to the opposition. The attorney general for the central province of Hama said in a video released late Wednesday that he has resigned in protest over hundreds of killings, arrests and accusations of torture by Syrian security forces.

In the video, Adnan Bakkour accused pro-Assad forces of killing 72 prisoners in the province on July 31 before imposing a siege on Hama city in August and killing another 420 people for participating in peaceful protests. He said government forces buried the dead in mass graves and forced him to issue a report blaming the killings on armed gangs.

Bakkour also said an additional 320 people had died from torture at police stations, that 10,000 more had been arbitrarily arrested and that the army had leveled houses while their occupants were still inside.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency says Bakkour was kidnapped earlier this week by “armed terrorist groups” and forced to make his resignation statement under duress. In another video posted to the Internet Thursday, Bakkour denies being kidnapped.

Rights activists and residents say Syrian security forces backed by tanks renewed operations in Hama on Wednesday, hunting for leaders behind the five-month uprising against President Assad and making arrests. Hama has seen some of the country's biggest protests demanding an end to Mr. Assad's 11-year autocratic rule.

Also Wednesday, the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said violence linked to the uprising killed 360 civilians and 113 security personnel during the just-ended Muslim holy month of Ramadan.