EU agrees to beef up sanctions on Syria

Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters repel a rebel attack in Aleppo, while activists report nationwide clashes.

Government forces pushed rebels out of the Hanano military base, a fortress-like compound in Aleppo [Reuters]

An increase in sanctions against the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is needed, European Union foreign ministers have agreed.

“There is consensus also on the increase of sanctions in Syria,” Erato Kozakou-Markoullis, Cypriot foreign minister, said on Saturday, as violence continued in the Arab Republic.

At the summit in Cyprus, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced a $54 million aid package to help some of the thousands of internally displaced Syrians left homeless by the fighting.

Thousands of people have been made homeless by the
fighting, and are trapped in camps on Syria’s borders

European nations are intent on working with Moscow, Assad’s main diplomatic and military supporter, she added, despite anger over Russia and China vetoing three UN Security Council attempts to exert more pressure on Syria.

Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters repelled a rebel attack on an army base in the northern city of Aleppo after a 20-hour battle, military officials and witnesses said.

Government forces on Saturday said they had pushed rebels out of the Hanano military base, a fortress-like compound in the east of the city, parts of which rebels claimed to have captured on Friday.

“There are a lot of victims on both sides,” a witness told the AFP news agency.

A military official in Aleppo, Syria’s second city and commercial hub, said soldiers destroyed six armoured vehicles which rebels were using to transport weapons seized in the Hanano barracks.

“The rebels had thrown themselves full whole-heartedly into this offensive because they desperately need weapons,” the army official said.

The Hanano base serves as a weapons storage depot, a conscript recruitment centre and also houses the headquarters of the local branch of the military police and anti-riot police.

Nationwide clashes

According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels on Friday stormed the area reserved for conscript recruitment.

At least 18 soldiers and four rebels were killed in Friday’s fighting, according to the Observatory.

There were no immediate reports of casualties for the overnight battles during which the army pushed back the rebels.

Government forces also shelled the rebel neighbourhoods of Al-Hajar Al-Aswad and Tadamun in southern Damascus at dawn on Saturday, the Observatory said.

There was also violence in the flashpoint central city of Homs where at least one rebel fighter was killed in clashes while 12 troops died in fighting in Hara, a town in the southern province of Daraa, it added.

Troops also pounded rebel positions in Albu Kamal in eastern Syria, shelling areas around the Hamdan military airport – which rebels had attacked earlier in the week, the Observatory said.

At least 136 people were killed across Syrian on Friday, including 73 civilians, 38 soldiers and 25 rebel fighters, according to the Observatory.

Russia plan

Meanwhile, Russian officials have said they would ask the UN Security Council to endorse a plan to end the violence, but the US insisted that any resolution had to be backed by economic pressure.

Meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia was willing to go back to the Security Council to seek its blessing for a stalled peace plan agreed by world powers in Geneva on June 30.

“We stressed in a meeting with the US Secretary of State that Russia will push for the Security Council’s approval of the Geneva communique,” Lavrov said, after talks on the sidelines of an Asia Pacific summit in Vladivostok.

Jacques Beres, founder of Doctors Without Borders,
talks about challenges for doctors in Syria

But Lavrov rejected US calls for more economic pressure, telling reporters: “In Syria we are not supporting any sanctions because sanctions will not bring about anything.”

Lavrov said the latest attempt at a Security Council resolution would take place later this month when foreign ministers meet as part of the annual United Nations General Assembly in New York.

The Kremlin-backed Geneva plan called for all sides in Syria to implement a ceasefire, in line with a proposal by former UN chief and negotiator Kofi Annan, and then to form a transitional government and review the constitution.

The plan immediately triggered new disputes between world powers, with the US and its European allies ruling out any future role for Assad but Russia saying that the transitional government should be decided by Syrians.

The Geneva plan has failed to halt violence on the ground, including reported massacres of civilians. Human rights monitors say that 26,000 people have died since protests erupted against Assad in March 2011.

Source: News Agencies