Syrian security forces yesterday renewed tank attacks on the city of Hama reportedly killing four after Sunday’s crackdown – described by activists as one of the bloodiest since the uprising against Assad began – left up to 130 dead in the city.
Western journalists are banned from Syria and rely on activists for testimony.
Ashton said that the EU had decided to impose further restrictive measures, in the form of an assets freeze and travel ban on five Syrian individuals associated with the violent repression.
A spokesman said that the list would be formally published tomorrow; it is almost certain to include President Bashar al-Assad, and influential henchmen such as his brother Maher – the chief of the Republican Guard – and Rami Makhlouf, his wealthy cousin.
In a statement Ashton urged the Syrian Government: “To address the EU's repeated calls for freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, to release all political prisoners without further delay and institute a genuine and inclusive national dialogue.”
She welcomed the UN Security Council’s decision to hold an emergency session later today to address the issue, saying: “It is time for the Security Council to take a clear stand on the need to end the violence.”
Syrian claims ‘nonsense’ according to US envoy
The Syrian government claimed troops were sent to Hama on Sunday to remove barricades erected by the protesters. But an official at the US embassy in Damascus dismissed the claims as “nonsense”, saying the government had launched “full-on warfare” against its own people.
US President Barack Obama described the reports from Hama as “horrifying”, whilst ministers from France and the UK separately condemned the violence, and Germany formally requested the United Nations’ emergency discussions in New York today.
The Syrian military pulled out of Hama a month ago, but remained on the outskirts, tightly controlling supplies to the city.
Town of al-Assad’s father’s crackdown on dissent
Hama is a symbolic centre of dissidence, since tens of thousands were killed there in 1982 when an uprising by the Sunni opposition Muslim Brotherhood was violently suppressed by former Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father.
Although the 800,000-inhabitant city was slow to join in this year’s protests, it has become one of the main focuses of rebellion, witnessing some of the country’s biggest demonstrations and worst violence.
Tanks and troops re-entered Hama at dawn on Sunday, attacking civilians with shells and machine-gun fire, according to witnesses.
Hospitals complained of being overwhelmed by the numbers of dead and wounded, and activists and residents claimed that more than 100 people had been killed by the time the tanks left again at twilight.
The Syrian government claimed five soldiers, including a colonel, were killed in yesterday’s clashes throughout the whole country.