EU threatens new sanctions on Syria

 

The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said today, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence. Activists reported at least 50 killed in military assaults targeting government opponents.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who held emergency talks in Damascus with Syrian President Bashar Assad yesterday, is trying to end Syria's 11-month-old bloody uprising, which has left more than 5,400 dead, according to the UN. Moscow launched the initiative yesterday, just days after it infuriated the US by blocking a Western- and Arab-backed UN Security Council resolution supporting calls for Assad to hand over some powers to his vice president.

Russia's approach does not call for Assad to step down, the opposition's chief demand, and Moscow is increasingly at odds with the Western efforts to end Assad's crackdown.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict "independently."

"We should not act like a bull in a china shop," Putin was quoted by the Itar Tass news agency as saying. "We have to give people a chance to make decisions about their destiny independently, to help, to give advice, to put limits somewhere so that the opposing sides would not have a chance to use arms, but not to interfere.

Lavrov told reporters in Moscow that Assad has "delegated the responsibility of holding such a dialogue to Vice President (Farouk) al-Sharaa." He blamed both Assad's regime and opposition forces for instigating the violence that has killed thousands of people since March.

"On both sides, there are people that aim at an armed confrontation, not a dialogue," Lavrov said.

Military defectors are playing a bigger role in Syria's Arab-Spring inspired uprising, turning it into a more militarized conflict and hurtling the country ever more quickly toward a civil war.

The regime's crackdown on dissent has left it almost completely isolated internationally and facing growing sanctions. The US closed its embassy in Damascus on Monday and five European countries and six Arab Gulf nations have pulled their ambassadors out of Damascus over the past two days. Germany, whose envoy left Syria this month, said he would not be replaced.

Nevertheless, Assad was bolstered by yesterday's visit from Lavrov and Russia's intelligence chief, Mikhail Fradkov. During the talks, the Russians pushed for a solution that would include reforms by the regime as well as the dialogue with the opposition.

Assad said Syria was determined to hold a national dialogue with the opposition and independent figures, and that his government was "ready to cooperate with any effort that boosts stability in Syria," according to state news agency SANA.

The Syrian opposition rejects any talks with the regime and says they accept nothing less than Assad's departure.

In Brussels, a senior EU official said the bloc will soon impose harsher sanctions against Syria as it seeks to weaken Assad's regime. The official said the new measures may include bans on the import of Syrian phosphates, on commercial flights between Syria and Europe, and on financial transactions with the country's central bank.

The official said some measures would be adopted at the EU foreign ministers meeting on 27 February.

As Russia pressed its efforts to start a dialogue, Syrian troops bombed residential neighbourhoods in the central city of Homs, the northern province of Idlib, southern region of Daraa and the mountain town of Zabadani, in what activists say is the regime's final push to retake areas controlled by the rebels.

Activists said at least 50 people died in today's shelling of Homs, which has been under a relentless regime offensive for the past five days. Hundreds are believed to have been killed there since Saturday.

Syria's state-run TV reported that gunmen fired mortar rounds at the oil refinery in Homs, one of two in Syria, setting two fuel tankers on fire but firefighters were able to control the blaze afterward. The TV also reported that gunmen attacked Homs' Baath University causing damage but no casualties.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 50 people were killed in today's shelling of the Homs neighbourhoods of Bayadah, Baba Amr, Khaldiyeh and Karm el-Zeytoun. The group also said that 23 homes were heavily damaged in Baba Amr alone.

Omar Shaker, an activist in Baba Amr, said his neighbourhood was under "very intense shelling" by tanks, mortars, artilleries and heavy machine guns. Shaker added that he counted five bodies today in his district.

"The situation is dire. We are short of food, water and medical aid. Doctors have collapsed after treating the wounded without rest for five days," Shaker said. "We want Lavrov to come and spend a night in Homs to see what we have been passing through."

The activist urged the international community to set up a safe passage so that women and children can leave volatile areas of Homs.

The head of the Observatory, Rami Abdul-Rahman, said the regime was trying "exhaust rebels in preparation for storming neighborhoods."

The Observatory and another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, also reported intense clashes between troops loyal to Assad and defectors on Wednesday in the province of Idlib, bordering Turkey. The Observatory said at least five soldiers were killed in the clashes.

The LCC said troops backed by tanks were also shelling and pushing forward in the southern village of Tseel in the Daraa province that borders Jordan. The group also said that rebel-controlled Zabadani, west of Damascus, was subjected to intense shelling since the early hours of the day.

AP

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before