Last updated: 23 October, 2011

Syria’s Assad names new governors as protests grow

Syria’s president came under increased international pressure Sunday as he appointed two new governors in flashpoint provinces while security forces reportedly killed eight more civilians.

EU president Herman Van Rompuy, meanwhile, said at the close of a summit in Brussels that European Union leaders were ready to slap more sanctions on Damascus failing a halt in the regime’s violence against dissenters.

EU leaders “expressed grave concern over continued brutality against the population in Syria,” Van Rompuy said, adding that if the violence did not stop the bloc “will impose restrictive measures against the regime.”

The bloc has issued several rounds of sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, extending sanctions against members of his inner circle to banks and the oil sector.

The EU leaders also issued a fresh call to Assad to step aside and allow a political transition amid more reports of fatalities in a crackdown on dissent that has left more than 3,000 people dead.

The EU “condemns in the strongest terms the ongoing brutal repression led by the Syrian regime against its population,” leaders said in a statement.

“President Assad must step aside to allow a political transition to take place in Syria,” the statement added.

Also upping the pressure, US Senator John McCain raised the prospect Sunday of possible armed intervention to protect civilians in Syria.

“Now that military operations in Libya are ending, there will be renewed focus on what practical military operations might be considered to protect civilian lives in Syria,” McCain told a World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan.

Five civilians, including a woman, were killed during military raids in the central city of Homs on Sunday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

State television said Assad named new governors for the northwestern province of Idlib and for the Damascus governorate, both of which have seen massive anti-regime demonstrations over the past seven months.

Assad has sacked several governors since the wave of protests erupted in mid-March, including the Hama governor who was dismissed in July after a record 500,000 protesters rallied there against the regime.

Yasser Salman el-Shufi was named as Idlib’s new governor while Makhluf Makhluf was appointed governor for the Damascus province.

Activists meanwhile called fresh protests on Sunday under the slogan: “It’s your turn” — a reference to Assad — hoping to force him out of power in the way Libyans ended the rule of Moamer Kadhafi.

The Observatory said a funeral for two civilians shot dead at dawn quickly turned into an anti-regime rally in the flashpoint province of Hama.

Angry mourners in the Hama village of Al-Madiq “demanded the fall of the regime,” the Britain-based group said in a statement received by AFP in Nicosia.

Hama’s history is steeped in blood. An estimated 20,000 people were killed there in 1982 when the army put down an Islamist revolt against the rule of Assad’s late father, Hafez al-Assad.

A third civilian was killed on Sunday when security forces manning a checkpoint in Mayadeen near the eastern city of Deir Ezzor opened fire, and two others were seriously wounded, the Observatory said.

Elsewhere, troops backed by security forces raided the villages of Dael and Ibtaa in the southern province of Daraa, cradle of the pro-democracy protests, to end a strike by residents.

“The military forces removed barricades set up by the residents in Dael and Ibraa,” the Observatory said, adding that the strike had been launched four days earlier.