U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged nations doing business with Syria to cut off trade and arms sales to the regime of President Bashar al-Assad and “get on the right side of history.”
Citing a “crescendo of condemnation” against Assad’s five-month crackdown on protesters, Clinton used an appearance with reporters at the State Department yesterday to make a public appeal for increasing the international pressure building against the Syrian government.
“We urge those countries still buying Syrian oil and gas, those countries still sending Assad weapons, those countries whose political and economic support give him comfort in his brutality, to get on the right side of history,” Clinton said.
The revolt against Assad’s rule began in March after the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt were toppled in uprisings and unrest spread to Bahrain and Yemen. Syria, whose oil production is declining, produces about 386,000 barrels of crude a day and has the ninth-largest oil reserves in the Middle East, according to data from BP Plc.
“We are consulting closely with partners around the world and we expect to see action,” Clinton said. While she declined to name any specific countries doing business with Syria during the press conference, she singled out China, India and Russia in an Aug. 11 interview with CBS News.
“We want to see China take steps with us,” Clinton told CBS, according to a transcript of the interview. “We want to see India, because India and China have large energy investments inside of Syria. We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime.”
Syrian security forces have killed at least 56 anti- government protesters in the past four days in the eastern town of Deir al-Zour, the central province of Homs, the northern governorate of Idlib and in the southern part of Daraa, where the uprising began, said Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria.
At least 17 protesters died yesterday in Homs, Idlib, the Hama governorate, the city of Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and suburbs of the capital, Damascus, as thousands marched, said Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights. While Syrian forces moved into the coastal city of Latakia and imposed a curfew overnight, the country was relatively quiet early today, with no injuries or casualties reported, Merhi said.
Rising Death Toll
At least three people died from injuries sustained in protests after prayers late yesterday, Al Arabiya reported today, citing activists. Two died in Deir al-Zour and one in Albu Kamal, it said.
Merhi and Qurabi, who compile the names of the dead, say Assad’s forces have killed more than 2,400 protesters and detained thousands since the revolt began. Syrian security forces have detained more than 30,000 people, with some in cages, according to State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland.
“We are trying and succeeding at putting together an international effort so there will be no temptation on the part of anyone inside the Assad regime to claim that it’s only the United States, or maybe that it’s only the West,” Clinton said yesterday. “Indeed, it’s the entire world. We’re making the case to our international partners to intensify the financial and political pressure to get the Syrian government to cease its brutality against its own citizens.”
Work ‘Paying Off’
Pointing to a recent United Nations statement against the Syrian regime and condemnation of the violence by both the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Clinton said, “There’s a lot of work going on and I think that work is paying off.”
“Defections in the army are increasing, we are in the hundreds now and will be in the thousands shortly,” Hussein Harmoush, a lieutenant colonel who split from the military in June and is the spokesman for the Free Arab Syrian Army, said in a phone interview yesterday from Syria, near the border with Turkey.
Harmoush, 39, who served in the army since 1991, said he and other defectors left when their mission “changed from protecting the state and preserving order to killing innocent people.” He said the defector forces don’t actively engage government troops in battle and are present at protests in a “protective capacity to defend protesters.”
At least two members of the security forces were killed by gunmen in the Damascus suburb of Douma, the state-run SANA news agency reported yesterday. More than 500 members of the forces have died since the start of the unrest, according to the government.
Syria’s economic growth is forecast to slow to 3 percent this year from 3.2 percent in 2010, the International Monetary Fund said in April, while the Institute of International Finance estimates the economy may contract 3 percent in 2011.
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