New Syrian Barrage, U.S. Sanctions Readied

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DEIR AL-ZOR, Syria, Aug. 10 (UPI) — Syria stepped up its crackdown Wednesday as Washington readied new sanctions and the U.N. Security Council was to debate a new response to the bloodshed.

The early-morning fresh assaults targeted at least two restive cities and several towns and villages, including in Idlib province bordering Turkey, rights and activist groups said.

The attacks came a day after Tuesday’s armored military assaults that killed more than 50 people in the some of the same areas, the groups said.

The assaults coincided with and followed a nearly 7-hour meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had with Syrian President Bashar Assad Tuesday, in which Turkey warned Assad he would meet the fate of Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi — whose regime is being attacked by NATO airstrikes — if he didn’t end the bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters and begin a process of reform.

“The situation is desperate,” a Syrian activist in touch with people in Deir al-Zor, a tribal city on the Euphrates River 280 miles northeast of Damascus, told Britain’s The Daily Telegraph.

“People are burying their dead in gardens and in small parks because it is too dangerous to go to cemeteries,” the activist said. “Snipers are everywhere.”

The city came under fresh artillery and automatic gunfire as tanks and troops cleared the city and suburbs of presumed opposition members. At least 17 people were killed Tuesday and an undetermined number were killed Wednesday, the crackdown’s fourth day of operations in the city, opposition groups said.

Deir al-Zor’s pro-government daily newspaper al-Furat made no mention of the attack.

Other cities and villages where attacks were carried out — including some by Syrian forces who killed people sleeping in their homes — included Binnish, known for its olive and fig trees; Sarmin, a historical town known as the site of a First Crusade military confrontation 1,000 years ago; and several villages north of Hama, a city of 700,000 targeted in a 10-day assault that Syrian TV said Tuesday was ending.

Emissaries from India, Brazil and South Africa were to meet with Syrian officials in Damascus Wednesday to appeal for an end to the crackdown and the beginning of genuine democratic reforms. The three countries have refused to support strong U.N. action against Syria.

The Security Council was to debate the possibility of increasing the severity of its response to the Syrian violence Wednesday after Assad ignored the council’s Aug. 3 demand to end attacks against protesters.

Assad vowed Tuesday to relentlessly fight “terrorist groups” — a term Syria uses to refer to government opponents.

The Security Council debate was to follow a report on Syria from Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a week after the council unanimously condemned Syria for “widespread violations of human rights and the use of force against civilians.”

The Obama administration was expected to follow the U.N. meeting as early as Thursday with a call for Assad to give up power, CNN reported. The United States would also impose tough new sanctions on families, businesses and government officials linked to the Assad regime, the network said.

President Barack Obama said July 12 Assad had “lost legitimacy” as a leader but stopped short of demanding he step down.

The White House said at the time Obama might later call on Assad to step down, as he did with Gadhafi.

Russia, traditionally Syria’s most powerful international champion, added its weight to the escalating pressure against Assad Tuesday, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov phoning Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem with a plea for the bloodshed to end and reforms to begin “without delay.”

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