Fresh clashes in Syria 'civil war'


Hours of clashes across Syria killed at least four people today and wounded dozens more - including an 11-year-old girl who was struck by stray bullets that flew across the border into Lebanon, officials said.

The most serious violence appeared to be in the town of Talkalakh, where witnesses reported more than six hours of explosions and gunfire.

The town is within walking distance from Lebanon, and at least two people were struck by bullets on the Lebanese side.

The girl and a 40-year-old man were taken to hospital after being struck by bullets fired from the Syrian town, Lebanese security officials said.

Deadly violence also was reported in Homs and Idlib provinces. At least four people were killed, activists said.

Syria is trying to crush an eight-month-old revolt challenging President Bashar Assad's autocratic rule, but the mounting death toll has led to broad condemnation. There also have been growing concerns that violence could lead to a wider regional conflagration.

The UN's top human rights official said this week that Syria is in a state of civil war and more than 4,000 people have been killed since mid-March.

The violence has led to several rounds of sanctions, a key tool used by the international community to exert pressure on the regime. The measures include travel bans and asset freezes.

The EU's latest sanctions target 12 people and 11 companies. They add to a long list of regime figures previously sanctioned by the EU, including Assad, his senior associates and high-ranking security officials.

The identities of those on the new list were made public today in the EU's official journal. They include the ministers of finance and the economy, as well as army officers.

Also on the list are the pro-government Cham Press TV and Al-Watan newspaper, as well as a research centre the EU says provides support to the Syrian military "for the acquisition of equipment used directly for the surveillance and repression of demonstrators".

Three oil companies, including Syria Trading Oil Company, which is responsible for exports, also were listed. The EU statement said the three oil companies provide financial support to the regime.

The sanctions are punishing Syria's ailing economy - a dangerous development for Damascus because the prosperous merchant classes are key to propping up the regime.

Syrian business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges. The sanctions, along with increasing calls by the opposition for general nationwide strikes, could sap their resolve.

Meanwhile, Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said fresh reports from the country reinforced the need for the Security Council to submit the situation in Syria to the Hague-based International Criminal Court.

"In light of the manifest failure of the Syrian authorities to protect their citizens, the international community needs to take urgent and effective measures to protect the Syrian people," Ms Pillay told an emergency meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

A draft resolution backed by African, European, Asian, Arab and American members of the 47-nation rights council calls for the establishment of a special investigator on Syria, but leaves open the issue of whether the Security Council, the UN's most powerful arm, should refer the country to the ICC.

Until recently, most of the bloodshed in Syria was caused by security forces firing on mainly peaceful protesters. There have been growing reports of army defectors and armed civilians fighting Assad's forces - a development that some say plays into the regime's hands by giving government troops a pretext to crack down with overwhelming force.