JERUSALEM (JWN and agencies)—At least 69 people were reported killed in southern Syria on Monday, most of them in clashes between army deserters and troops loyal to President Bashar Assad, activists said on Tuesday.
The violence continued to mount as Syria faces increasing international and inter-Arab isolation. The Arab League suspension of Syria’s membership on Saturday appeared to intensify Assad’s crackdown on protesters calling for his ouster.
The first two weeks of November have been one of the bloodiest in the eight months of protests that followed the overthrow of dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.
The Syrian Organization for Human Rights announced that 34 soldiers and Syrian security personnel were killed in clashes in the southern province of Deraa with army defectors who have joined the rebel forces.
Reports are difficult to verify, since Syria has barred most foreign media from entering the country. Not surprisingly, Syria’s state news agency SANA made no mention of the clashes in the south and state television constantly broadcasts crowds cheering their support for Assad.
The United Nations says some 3,500 people have been killed so far in Assad’s crackdown. Human rights groups say the security forces are carrying out executions and torture which are crimes against humanity.
In Brussels on Monday, the European Union imposed sanctions on 18 high-ranking Syrians to protest against Assad’s suppression of dissent.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said that military intervention similar to what was taken against Gaddafi’s Libya would be premature, but sending UN observers might reduce the killings. He suggested the 27 members of the EU should become more closely involved with the Syrian opposition.
While the EU will release the names of the newly sanctioned Syrians in a day or two, the EU ministers said they were “individuals responsible or associated with the repression and supporting or benefiting from the regime.” Sanctions will reportedly include travel bans and the freezing of assets.
The EU has already placed sanctions on 56 leading Syrians and 19 organizations and has banned the import of Syrian crude oil into the EU.
In Jordan, meanwhile, King Abdullah on Monday urged Assad to abdicate. “I believe, if I were in his shoes, I would step down,” Abdullah told the BBC. “I would step down and make sure whoever comes behind me has the ability to change the status-quo that we’re seeing.”