Assad admits Syrian regime's 'mistakes' as sanctions are imposed

Human rights activists says 26 people were killed yesterday when the army shelled a border town near Lebanon

The US will today impose sanctions on the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and senior members of his regime for human rights abuses during the brutal crackdown against peaceful protests that has left more than 850 people dead.

The sanctions – revealed a day before a major speech by President Obama on the uprisings throughout the Arab world – followed a rare acknowledgement by the Syrian leader of government mistakes in tackling the uprising against his rule, as two months of protests continued with a general strike.

In comments to a state-run newspaper, Mr Assad claimed that the crisis was coming to an end and blamed poorly trained police officers, saying that thousands would receive new training. Some rights activists dismissed his statement and said that 26 people were killed yesterday as the army shelled Tel Kelakh, a border town near Lebanon, for a fourth day. "He said the same thing about troops that were based in Lebanon in 2005," said Radwan Ziadeh, a human rights activist based in the US. "We can't be expected to believe this now."

The US move is likely to be largely symbolic. It freezes the assets of Mr Assad and other senior figures, including the Vice President and Prime Minister, that are in the US and bars US companies from dealing with them. "The actions the administration has taken today send an unequivocal message to President Assad, the Syrian leadership and regime insiders that they will be held accountable for the ongoing violence and repression in Syria," said David Cohen, an official in the US Treasury Department.

The crackdown continued yesterday and residents of the besieged border town of Tel Kelakh said that the Syrian security services were carrying out house-to-house raids and that many were without water or electricity.

There were also reports that the army had been machine-gunning the main road leading from Tel Kelakh to Lebanon, which hundreds of refugees have been using to flee the violence. It was not possible to independently verify the claims.

There were conflicting accounts of how many people had taken part in the strike, which had sought to close schools, universities, restaurants and halt taxis. Posts by activists on Facebook suggested there had been strong participation in Homs, with shops remaining shut and protesters marching though the empty market chanting "the people want to overthrow the regime". Wissam Tarif, executive director of the Syrian human rights organisation Insan, said "many people have participated".

He added: "I know it's working very well in Homs, but we don't have a clear view. A lot of people didn't go to work and a lot of people didn't open shops."

However other Syrians reported that the call for a strike, which initially came from an announcement on Facebook urging a "day of punishment for the regime from the free revolutionaries" had fallen on deaf ears. Damascus was reportedly largely unaffected.

President Assad, who carried Western hopes of a more open, less despotic Syria when he succeeded his father, Hafez, in 2000, has struggled to contain the nationwide uprising since it erupted in the southern Syrian city of Deraa in mid-March. The trigger for the insurrection was the arrest of 15 young boys who had sprayed anti-regime graffiti around the city.

The security forces, who, like the army top brass are largely drawn from the same Alawite sect which Mr Assad and his family belongs to, have responded with deadly force. A demonstration in Deraa on 18 March was met with live fire, and, as protests spread around the country, similar tactics were used to attempt to crush the uprising.

Arab Spring round-up


The protests which swept through the Middle East have their origins in the small town of Sidi Bouzid in the Tunisian interior, where the suicide of a vegetable seller set off a chain of demonstrations which led to the toppling on 14 January of president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, the first Arab dictator to fall. The United States did not see the wave of popular unrest coming and was slow to throw its weight behind protests. Since the revolution, Tunisia has floundered, with an interim government struggling to bring order and a populous angry at the slow pace of economic and democratic reform.


The next leader to fall was Hosni Mubarak, whose 30-year rule came crashing down with his resignation on 11 February in the face of massive protests. Despite his harsh crackdown during the unrest, the US was slow to condemn its long-time ally, who had sold himself as a vital bulwark against Islamist extremism in the Middle East. Stability has yet to return to Egypt, where the ruling military council faces lawlessness and continuing protests, despite the promise of elections and moves to put Mubarak and his allies on trial.


The Arab Spring appeared to grind to a halt in Bahrain, where the ruling Sunni monarchy was uncompromising in its crushing of February demonstrations, shooting protesters and rounding up critics. Saudi Arabia also sent troops to back the Bahraini authorities, fearful of unrest among its own Shia population. The US has to walk a fine line on Bahrain – its Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed in the kingdom, and it is on a crucial oil supply route. And as Bahrain's Shia majority fought on the streets for more rights, attention was diverted to Libya, where a more notorious dictator was provoking people's wrath.


Protests in the east of Libya began quietly in February, but swiftly escalated into the first fully fledged armed uprising of the Arab Spring. When Colonel Muammar Gaddafi unleashed heavy weaponry on his own people, the UN stepped in. At first, the Obama administration appeared cautious, wary of America's already-battered reputation in the Muslim world after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They backed the UN resolution authorising force against Gaddafi, but have let Britain and France lead the military push. Nato air strikes continue, with the rebels and Gaddafi's forces locked in a stalemate in the east.


President Ali Abdullah Saleh is currently negotiating an early exit after country-wide protests. The US, which pumps millions of dollars in aid into Yemen in exchange for a hard line on the al-Qa'ida presence there, has appeared reluctant to enter the fray in the Gulf nation, which is also beset by a secessionist movement in the south, an on-off rebellion in the north, and grinding poverty.

Charlotte McDonald-Gibson

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Consultant - London - £65,000 OTE.

£65000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Presales Engineer - central London ...

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable