|Anti-government protests have continued across the country despite a security crackdown [Reuters]
Syrian government tanks have resumed shelling in the town of Deir ez-Zour a day after at least 17 protesters were reportedly killed across the country, activists said.
Syrian security forces stormed the area of al-Busaira in Deir ez-Zour on Thursday amid heavy gunfire, conducting house-to-house searches, said the Local Co-ordinating Committees of Syria (LCC), a group of activists representing provinces across the country.
Despite the crackdown, anti-government protests are ongoing across the country.
Tanks and armoured vehicles have entered Shuhail, a town southeast of the provincial capital of Deir ez-Zour, which has seen daily protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule since the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, a local activist said.
"Initial reports by residents describe tens of tanks firing randomly as they stormed the town at dawn. Shuhail has been very active in protests and the regime is using overwhelming force to frighten the people," activists said.
Al Jazeera's Nisreen El Shamayleh reporting from Ramtha on the border with Jordan said: "We understand that a total of 17 people have been killed since Wednesday, Deir ez-Zour is coming under heavy attack by Syrian troops that are backed by tanks.
"At least 118 tanks were stationed in Shuhail town where several protests have taken place there in the last few month."
In another incident, the LCC said masked Syrian security force members and masked pro-regime shabiha militiamen attacked Ali Ferzat, Syria's best-known satirical cartoonist, at the capital's Ummayad square while he was returning to his home.
"The attackers stole the contents of his briefcase, including his drawings and other personal belongings," the LCC's Omar Idlbi said in a statement.
"He was beaten hard, notably on his hands. Passersby found him on the road to the airport and he was taken to hospital," he said.
Meanwhile in the central province of Homs on Thursday, Syria's state news agency reported the deaths of eight Syrian soldiers, including an army officer, in what it said were separate attacks a day earlier.
"In an ambush Wednesday afternoon at (the town of) Talbisa, terrorists fired on a military bus killing one officer and two soldiers and wounding seven others," said one military official quoted by the agency.
At al-Rastan further north, "a terrorist group fired on a military vehicle killing five soldiers," the official told SANA.
Amid the increasing violence, the European Union and the United Nations announced plans for more sanctions against al-Assad's regime.
EU governments are likely to adopt an embargo against imports of Syrian oil by the end of next week, an EU diplomat said on Wednesday.
Valerie Pecresse, a French government spokeswoman, said: "France pressed for tougher sanctions on Syria and more pressure from the United Nations to bring about a democratic transition there."
In-depth coverage of escalating violence across Syria
A European and US draft resolution on Tuesday called for UN sanctions against the Syrian president, 22 Syrian officials and the country's General Intelligence Directorate, reported the Reuters news agency.
The EU's 27 governments agreed last Friday to explore new sanctions against Assad in response to his five-month crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators, in which the UN said 2,200 civilians have been killed.
The UN's human rights council launched an investigation on Tuesday into the violence, including possible crimes against humanity, despite objections from Russia, China and Cuba.
The EU has already placed sanctions on dozens of Syrian officials and state entities, but has taken
incremental steps in broadening its measures. Some states are concerned about putting commercial interests in Syria at risk.
'Ahmadinejad calls for dialogue'
Meanwhile, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called for dialogue between the Syrian government and opposition to end the months of violence.
"The people and government of Syria must come together to reach an understanding," he told Lebanese Al-Manar television, the station run by Lebanon's Hezbollah movement.
"When there is a problem between the people and their leaders, they must sit down together to reach a solution, away from violence," he said.
Separately, the Arab League announced it would hold an emergency meeting on Saturday to discuss the situation in Syria.
"It is unlikely that there will be decision on a no-fly zone or military intervention in Syria similar to what took place in Libya," said a permanent representative of an Arab state at the league who refused to give his name.