Over 4,000 people have been killed in the almost nine months of popular protests against the authoritarian regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Navi Pillay, the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, said that the death toll could actually be even higher, based on “the reliable information coming to us is.” She also said that Syria can now be considered to be in a state of civil war.
On Monday, the UN had issued a report accusing Syria of crimes against humanity. 256 children have been killed since the uprising began in mid-March in the southern city of Daraa.
More Sanctions For Syria
Britain, the European Union and Arab nations including Turkey have all sharply increased pressure on Syria, with Britain accusing Iran of assisting Syria in the crackdown on its citizens. Addressing EU ministers in Brussels, British foreign secretary William Hague said that “There is a link between what is happening in Syria and what is happening in Iran.” One senior Arab diplomat even said that there are 300-400 Iranian revolutionary guard personnel in Syria; both Aran and Western governments have been saying that Iran has been giving Syria financial and logistical assistance, as well as security advice.
The European Union has tightened sanctions against both the energy and financial sectors of Syria and named 12 more individuals and 11 entities who be subject to travel bans and asset freezes. The Arab League has named 17 Syrian senior officials who will now be denied entry to other Arab countries, including Assad’s brother Maher, who heads the elite Fourth Division and the Republican Guard; Rami Makhlouf, a millionaire cousin of Assad’s who was in charge of the mobile phone network; and members of the state security service including Maj. Gen. Assef Shawkat, who is married to Assad’s sister. In response, Syria has suspended its participation in the Mediterranean Union, an initiative of French President Nicolas Sarkozy that was intended to foster relations among Europe, the Middle East and North Africa.
The EU and the US were the first to impose sanctions on Syria; these have had a particularly harsh effect on Syria’s oil industry, which makes up a third of government revenues.
Turkey: “Syria has wasted the last chance that it was given”
Just a year ago, Turkey was Syria’s close ally with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Assad vacationing together and the two governments holding joint cabinet meetings and military exercises. But Erdogan is taking steps to freeze Syria’s assets and has halted transactions with Syria’s central bank. Turkey is also implementing a wide-spread ban on military sales to Syria and a blockade of weapons deliveries from other countries via the land and sea borders that Turkey shares with Syria.
As he has on numerous occasions, Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, again called for Assad to step down and stop the violence against his own people:
“Every bullet fired, every bombed mosque has taken away the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership and has widened the gap between us,” Mr. Davutoglu said. “Syria has wasted the last chance that it was given.”
Prior to the uprising, and the Syrian government’s bloody suppression of it, trade between Turkey and Syria had been steadily growing to $2.5 billion in 2009, up from $795 million in 2006.
Kuwait is one of a number of Arab countries who have now advised their citizens to leave Syria.
More Killings, Including 2 Women and 2 Children
In another sign that civil war is more and more likely in Syria, if not already occurring, the Syrian National Council (SNC), the main opposition group, has announced that it and the Free Syria Army (FSA), which is made up of defectors from the Syrian army, have made an agreement. The SNC and the FDA had met in southern Turkey on Monday; SNC member Khaled Khoja says that “the council recognised the Free Syrian Army as a reality, while the army recognised the council as the political representative [of the opposition].”
Just on Wednesday, at least 15 people were killed including two women and two children. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also report that seven soldiers were killed in the southern town of Dael while security forces were rounding up and arresting some 100 opposition activists.
On Friday, the day when protests have often been held throughout the past months, the opposition plans to hold demonstrations calling for a border “buffer zone” to protect civilians.
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Photo taken at a rally in Manchester, UK by Tim . Simpson