The Obama administration is considering options to hold Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accountable for the increasingly violent crackdown against anti- government protesters, including possible sanctions, an administration official said.
One of the options under consideration is an executive order by President Barack Obama that would institute sanctions against Syrian officials, the administration official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The sanctions would target those officials leading the crackdown and may include freezing their assets and banning business dealings with the U.S., the official said.
The administration is looking for ways to register international opposition to Assad’s actions and discourage the crackdown, the official said. Still, the draft executive order hasn’t been completed and no final decisions have been made. The potential move was reported earlier by the Wall Street Journal.
“The United States is pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown and make clear that this behavior is unacceptable,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in an e-mailed statement.
Assad has failed to quell protests after pledging steps to meet activists’ demands and end a 48-year state of emergency. Over the weekend, scores of anti-government protesters were killed and Syrian security forces detained at least 200 people, prompting a number of officials to announce their resignations, activists said.
Khalil al-Rifai and Nasser al-Hariri, lawmakers from the southern town of Daraa, the scene of the deadliest clashes, resigned. The city’s top government-appointed religious leader, Mufti Rizq Abdel Dayem Abazid, also said he quit.
While protests against Assad’s government began March 15, the U.S. is stepping up its efforts to pressure Syria’s leadership to stop the crackdown.
Obama condemned Syria for its “outrageous use of violence” and said the government’s moves to lift the state of emergency and allow peaceful demonstrations “were not serious given the continued violent repression against protesters.” The president called on Assad to “change course now and heed the calls of his own people.”
Mahmoud Merhi, who heads the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in an interview from Damascus that 200 to 300 people have been detained since April 22. Many of those arrested were taken from their homes at night, according to Haitham al- Maleh, a member of the Syrian Human Rights Committee, who estimates “hundreds” were arrested.
Merhi said 126 people were killed in the past two days, 113 of them during April 22 demonstrations and 13 during ensuing funerals, making them the deadliest clashes since protests began March 15. More than 2,000 people have been detained, with half of them released since mid-March, he said.
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