(Updates with time of UN meeting in second paragraph, EU measures in final paragraph. See EXTRA and MET for more on Middle East unrest.)
Aug. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The United Nations Security Council prepared to meet to discuss a German call for a “clear condemnation” of Syria after the security forces killed more than 150 people in a crackdown on anti-government protests.
The army’s attacks on Hama, Syria’s fourth-largest city, demonstrate a “new quality” to the government’s clampdown, highlighting President Bashar al-Assad’s “machinery of repression,” German Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Schaefer told reporters in Berlin today. The council will meet at 5 p.m. in New York, the German mission to the UN said.
U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague said that securing a resolution condemning the violence will be “difficult work.” China and Russia have been blocking a U.S.- and European-backed draft in the 15-member body since late May. The attack on Hama, accounting for the bulk of the deaths in the past 24 hours, is one of the bloodiest episodes in the uprising that began more than four months ago.
Government forces resumed their assault on Hama today on the first day of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, shelling it early this morning and destroying four buildings, while also attacking the eastern city of Deir al-Zour and the town of Bukamal, Mahmoud Merhi, head of the Damascus-based Arab Organization for Human Rights, said by telephone.
At least 10 people were killed today, Merhi said, while Syrian state television said yesterday an army colonel and two other soldiers were killed by armed men in Deir al-Zour.
“I would like to see a United Nations Security Council resolution to condemn this violence, to call for the release of political prisoners and to call for legitimate grievances to be responded to,” Hague told BBC Radio 4. “We want to see stronger international pressure all round.”
Germany wants the UN to send a “clear message” to Assad that such action is unacceptable, Schaefer said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel condemns the violence “in the strongest possible terms,” deputy government spokesman Christoph Steegmans told the Berlin briefing. Merkel calls on the Syrian government to allow peaceful demonstrations and the right to protest, he said.
The latest assault came as opposition forces vowed to step up their campaign against Assad during Ramadan. Family and community groups typically gather for evening meals during the month to break their fasts and more people attend special services at mosques. That may make it easier for opposition leaders to organize daily rallies along the lines of those held for the past four months after Friday prayers.
The government “has been very frightened by Ramadan’s onset,” Joshua Landis, a Syria specialist who directs the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, said in a telephone interview. “The unfolding crackdown is going to fuel people’s anger.”
Oil advanced from a two-week low in New York. Crude for September delivery rose as much as $1.85 to $97.55 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange and was at $96.73 at 1:05 p.m. London time.
UN-sanctioned military action against Syria is unlikely and the international community will need to work with the limited tools it has available to influence the regime’s actions, Hague said.
“There is no prospect of a legal, morally sanctioned military intervention; therefore we have to concentrate on other ways of influencing the Assad regime and trying to help the situation in Syria,” Hague told the BBC. “It is a very frustrating situation. The levers that we have in this situation are relatively limited but we should be frank in admitting that and then working with the ones that we have.”
Russia and China, which have a veto in the Security Council, had previously refused to back a resolution condemning Syria, while India, South Africa and Brazil were also opposed, the German Foreign Ministry said.
“It remains to be seen whether in view of the new quality of violence at the weekend those partners will change” their views, said Schaefer, the ministry spokesman.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement posted on its website today that the use of force by both sides in Syria is unacceptable and must end.
‘No Real Change’
“There is no real change in the Russian position on Syria, but this statement serves as a kind of insurance policy for Moscow to take further steps at the UN,” Fyodor Lukyanov, an analyst at the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow, said by telephone. “More than this we can hardly expect, as nobody wants to end up with the sort of mess that happened in Libya,” where Russia allowed western countries to go ahead with military intervention.
“France firmly condemns the violence that has been perpetrated in Syria and has told Syria’s military and political leaders that they will be held accountable,” Budget Minister Valerie Pecresse, who acts as the government spokeswoman, told a news conference after the Cabinet met in Paris. “We hope that the UN Security Council will condemn these acts.”
At least 2,000 protesters have been killed since the demonstrations began in mid-March, according to Merhi and Ammar Qurabi of the National Organization for Human Rights.
The unrest poses the biggest challenge to Assad’s rule since he inherited power from his father, Hafez al-Assad, 11 years ago. Assad has blamed the protests on foreign- inspired plots, while conceding that some demonstrators have legitimate demands and pledging political changes.
The European Union imposed an asset freeze and travel ban on five Syrians “responsible for and associated with repression,” Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign-policy chief, said in an e-mailed statement, without identifying the people.
--With assistance from Thomas Penny in London, Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow, Patrick Henry in Brussels, Gregory Viscusi in Paris, Emre Peker in Ankara and Flavia Krause-Jackson at the United Nations. Editors: Eddie Buckle, Heather Langan
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