Syria faces sanctions as 400 die in violent crackdown
Europe will push for sanctions on Syria if it continues to use violence to try to stop protests, William Hague, Britain's Foreign Secretary, warned last night.
The death toll in nearly six weeks of protest has now passed 400, according to Syrian human rights groups, including more than 100 killed by security forces on Good Friday alone.
And amid fresh reports of further violence against unarmed demonstrators, western nations have significantly stiffened their position on Syria.
Mr Hague signalled support for "further measures" against Mr Assad's regime.
"Syria is now at a fork in the road... it can choose ever more violent repression which can only ever bring short term security for the authorities there," he told parliament.
"If it does so we will work with our European partners and others to take measures including sanctions that will impact on the regime," he said.
A day earlier, the US threatened to imposed "targeted sanctions" on senior members of the Assad government.
"This violent repression must stop," Mr Hague said. "President Assad should order his authorities to show restraint and respond to the legitimate demands of his people with immediate and genuine reform, not with brutal repression."
Western leaders have come under fire for muting criticism of the Syrian president. Human rights activists welcomed the prospect of targeted EU sanctions, saying they would be more effective than similar US measures.
"We are hoping that European countries will join these efforts as they have more leverage," said Nadim Houry, the principal Syria researcher for Human Rights Watch. "Some of the Syrians responsible [for the security crackdown] have assets in Europe."
"The idea is to send a clear message that whoever is taking part in these attacks will have limits imposed on them."
Britain and other European states circulated a draft UN resolution among Security Council members calling for an independent investigation into the violence.
Rights groups said 500 people had been arrested in house-to-house sweeps across some of the country's most restive cities.
Soldiers again opened fire in Deraa, a day after thousands of troops, supported by tanks, marched into the southern city.
Most people were too terrified to leave their homes, but video footage showed a small group of protesters chanting "The army are with us" in front of a group of soldiers standing beside a tank, only to scatter after shots were fired.
The military were also out in force in the city of Homs, where peaceful protests have repeatedly been broken up.
"This is not going to end anytime soon," one resident said. "I fear the weekend to come . . . could be even bloodier than the past one." (© Daily Telegraph, London)