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SYRIA: Oil sanctions urged as security forces continue assault

August 16, 2011 | 12:16 pm

Human Rights Watch called on the European Union on Tuesday to freeze oil and gas assets of the Syrian regime as the brutal military offensive on Latakia continued for a fourth day, claiming the lives of at least seven people over the last 24 hours. 

The fresh casualties included Nada Hassan Al Saed, a 22-year-old Palestinian mother of two, and a young girl of about 5. 

Activists reported that residents who were rousted from their homes, stripped of identification and guided to a large sports stadium on Monday continued to be held inside the stadium on Tuesday, though the claims could not be independently verified. The United Nations agency overseeing a Palestinian refugee camp in Latakia said it had no information about the whereabouts of at least 5,000 people living there.

Lattakia Activists and eyewitnesses reported tanks rolling through the neighborhoods of Sakantouri, Masbah Shaeb and Ain Tamra, shelling buildings and spreading fear among residents. 

Military activity intensified through residential streets. Gunmen threatened to shoot any approaching residents, said Zoya, 26, an activist and university graduate contacted via Skype who asked that her last name not be used.

"They shelled buildings while residents were still inside them," said one activist who goes by the honorific title Abu Youssef and belongs to the Local Coordination Committees activist network. "They threatened everyone and ordered them to either leave their homes or else they would be dealt with as terrorists."

According to Abu Youssef, security forces had dumped the bodies of about 30 army soldiers into large garbage bins to be thrown in the sea later. 

"The plainclothes security forces will record a video of themselves tossing the bodies into the sea and pretend to be residents, framing us for crimes we didn't do," he explained. 

Eyewitnesses confirmed Monday that army soldiers were attempting to protect residents of the Al Riml neighborhood in Latakia from the assault of the security forces. 

It has been the trend of the security forces to launch violent crackdowns on different Syrian neighborhoods and cities each week. 

"It seems the regime is acting in confidence to turn the current uprising into a manageable one," said Wissam Tarif, founder of INSAN and well-known human rights activist. 

"Dead bodies are still dumped in the road" said Zoya. "The situation is terrible."

Human Rights Watch called for sanctions on Syrian oil and gas in an effort to strike President Bashar Assad's regime where it hurts the most, asking Europe, which consumes 95% of Syrian exported oil, to cut its oil ties with Damascus. 

“Syria’s authorities are still killing their own people despite multiple efforts by other countries, including former allies, to make them stop,” said Lotte Leicht, EU director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s time to show the government that Europeans won’t help to fund its repression.”

The Syrian government receives approximately $2.8 million in oil and gas revenues per year, according to a recent International Monetary Fund report. 

The London-based think tank Strategic Research & Communication Centre in a report Tuesday concluded that targeting Syria's oil revenues would debilitate its economy and deal a fatal blow to the Assad regime without harming Syrian civilians. 

"Oil revenue would only affect the regime, as it is not invested to improve the conditions of the people and is not spent on development. Sanctions on oil exports would not affect the people, but would cut off the steady flow of foreign currency diverted to the regime’s mercenaries," stated the report. 

-- Roula Hajjar in Beirut

Photo: Images said to show tanks rolling beside military forces deployed in Latakia, Syria. 

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