Syria Kills 20 Protesters as Soldiers Ambushed

Syrian security forces have killed at least 20 protesters since the European Union expanded its sanctions in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on dissent.

At least two people died today in the central town of Talkalakh, in the Homs governorate, while several people were wounded in the northern province of Idlib, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by phone from Damascus. Eighteen people were killed yesterday in Homs, Idlib and the Hama governorate, he said.

Nine people, including an army officer and five soldiers, were killed and 17 injured when a “terrorist group” ambushed a military bus in the central area of the country, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said yesterday. Security forces killed three people after pursuing the attackers, the news service said, citing an unidentified military official.

Assad, who inherited power from his father 11 years ago, faces the biggest challenge to his rule as international pressure to end the violence increases. The EU announced on Sept. 3 that it had added four people and three companies to the list of those targeted by an asset freeze and travel ban against Syria, where the unrest began almost six months ago. A day earlier, the EU banned imports of Syrian oil.

Dead, Injured, Jailed

More than 2,450 civilians and 700 members of the security forces have been killed during the crackdown, while 15,000 people have been injured and at least 20,000 are in prison, according to Merhi.

The president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, Jakob Kellenberger, said after a meeting with Assad today that his delegation was given permission to visit the Damascus Central Prison. “We are hopeful that we will soon be able to visit all detainees,” he said in a statement.

Merhi said that human rights organizations should be permitted to visit inmates at prisons throughout the country, including some run by the security services that don’t answer to the Interior Ministry.

Security forces have failed to halt the protests, which were inspired by unrest across the Middle East and North Africa that unseated Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in January and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak the following month. Muammar Qaddafi is in hiding after an uprising ended his control over most of Libya.

Oil Exports

Syria shipped 3.2 billion euros ($4.5 billion) of oil to the EU last year, about 88 percent of its total exports to the bloc, according to EU figures. The U.S. imposed a similar ban last month.

The companies added to the EU’s asset-freeze list are Mada Transport, Cham Investment Group and Real Estate Bank.

Russia doesn’t support unilateral sanctions against Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sept. 3. “It is destroying any partnership approach to any problem,” Lavrov said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut at mderhally@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew J. Barden at barden@bloomberg.net.

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