June 7 (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. urged the United Nations to step up pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to increase democracy and human rights and said European countries may take action unless a crackdown by security forces is halted.
“We are exploring with our European partners the potential for further sanctions if the violence continues,” Foreign Sectary William Hague told lawmakers in the House of Commons in London today. “We are working to persuade other countries that the Security Council has a responsibility to speak out. President Assad is losing legitimacy and should reform or step aside.”
Assad’s crackdown on protesters calling for the ouster of his regime has escalated since the European Union announced sanctions against the Syrian leadership May 23. Security forces have killed more than 1,100 people and detained more than 10,000 since protests began in mid-March, human-rights groups say.
“Additional sanctions would involve the designation of further individuals involved in repression and violence in Syria and commercial organizations,” Hague said. “We have to recognize our limited leverage in Syria but we are using the leverage we have got.”
Syria’s government said yesterday 120 security personnel were killed in an ambush by “terror groups” in the northern town of Jisr al-Shughour, a flashpoint for recent unrest, and that it will act with resolve against those responsible.
The town is now under siege and as many as 50 protesters have been killed there in the past four days and 100 injured, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Arab Organization for Human Rights, said in a telephone interview from Damascus.
Merhi said he didn’t have direct information about the killing of security forces and that there may have been attacks by relatives of protesters killed at the start of the crackdown in Jisr al-Shughour, because “violence breeds violence.” There were demonstrations across Syria last night, he said.
Agence France-Presse cited opposition members as saying there was a mutiny among security services in the town, and forces loyal to Assad executed police officers who refused to open fire on protesters. The report didn’t identify the people who provided the information.
Interior Minister Mohamad Ibrahim al-Shaar said the gangs in Jisr al-Shughour had targeted state-security buildings. They “burned and destroyed these centers using bullets and hand grenades,” he said. Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said the army would restore security in the region, and state television said reinforcements have been sent there.
Syria’s government says Islamists and foreign provocateurs are behind the uprising. State television has shown footage of what it says are arms and ammunition seized from opposition groups. Assad initially offered reforms in response to the protests, a pledge he hasn’t repeated in recent weeks.
Britain is calling on Syria “to meet their people’s legitimate demands, release all prisoners of conscience, lift restrictions on the media and Internet and cooperate with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” Hague said.
Abdel Razaq Tlass, a Syrian army lieutenant who defected, told Al Jazeera television he saw how the army killed protesters in Daraa and in Sanamin, and how officers put weapons and ammunition near their bodies to suggest they were gunmen. He called on other army officers to defect and protect civilians.
The government yesterday warned owners of satellite telephones of unspecified penalties if their devices aren’t registered locally, state television said.
Several activists have said in interviews with Arabic- language television networks that they were using satellite telephones to call media outlets. Local reporters operate under restriction and members of the foreign media attempting to report from Syria have been jailed or deported.
--With assistance from Inal Ersan in Dubai and Zaid Sabah Abd Alhamid and Leslie Hoffecker in Washington. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Heather Langan.
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