Syrian leader defiant as U.S. sanctions bite deep(Salon)
Syrian President Bashar Assad claimed the country’s “crisis” is drawing to a close even as forces unleashed tank shells on opponents Wednesday and U.S. sanctions took aim at the Syrian leader and his senior aides for their brutal crackdowns.
The messages from Damascus and Washington highlight a sharp divide: Western governments trying to boost pressure on Syria‘s regime, but Assad displaying confidence he can ride it out.
Assad received a further boost when a call for nationwide strikes fell flat and longtime ally Russia vowed to stand against any U.N. resolutions that would sanction Syria.
Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented coverage of the conflict, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts coming out of the country or gauge the strength of the unprecedented protest movement in one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
But as the regime tightens its lockdown and broadens its campaign of intimidation, the regime could eventually frighten the population enough to eventually keep them off the streets — a tactic used by Syria’s close partner Iran after unprecedented post-election chaos two years ago.
On Wednesday, witnesses said the Syrian army shelled the western border town of Talkalakh with tanks for the fourth consecutive day. Syrians fleeing to Lebanon in recent days have described horrific scenes of execution-style slayings and bodies in the streets in Talkalakh.
Activists say at least 27 people have been killed there since last week.
“They are bombing us with tanks, it’s been going on for days,” a resident told The Associated Press by phone from just outside the town of the town of some 70,000 people, just hours after fleeing.
“Security forces are making random arrests, there isn’t one security apparatus that they have not sent to the town,” he said on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
More than 5,000 people have crossed from Talkalakh across a shallow river into Wadi Khaled on the Lebanese side of the border in recent weeks.
Assad “is not a president,” said Mohammad, a Syrian who fled Talkalakh three days earlier and was taking shelter along with others in a mosque in Wadi Khaled. “We elected him to protect us and shelter us, not to displace us,” he told Associated Press Television News.
The violence across Syria has sparked international condemnation and efforts for new sanctions against the Syrian leadership after more than 850 deaths since the uprising began in March.
In Washington, officials said the Treasury Department planned sanctions on Assad and six members of his inner circle. It would mark the first time that sanctions would hold Assad personally accountable for actions of his security forces. In Berlin, Germany‘s Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle also pushed for a second round of European Union sanctions that would target Assad.