REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Activists seeking the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad said Thursday that several dozen people had been killed during a "military campaign" in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib in the latest wave of violence to hit the Middle Eastern nation.
The activists said that "dozens of disappearances and arrests" had taken place, mostly in the town of Binish, and telephone and Internet communications were cut in much of the province.
The Syrian government confirmed fighting in the region, saying 10 security officials had been killed and 19 others wounded in an ambush by "an armed terrorist group," according to the official state news agency.
An unspecified number of "armed men" were killed and others were arrested during the pursuit of suspects, the agency said. Authorities also confiscated "big quantities" of weapons, ammunition, communication devices and stolen cars, it said.
According to the Local Coordinating Committees, an activist coalition seeking Assad’s ouster, a crowd of 10,000 gathered in Binish at a funeral and chanted for the toppling of the government.
It is difficult to verify the daily accounts of violence emanating from Syria because Damascus has placed restrictions on journalists.
Antigovernment activists have generally depicted the violence as unprovoked assaults by security forces on peaceful protesters. The government has blamed armed “terrorists” for attacking law enforcement personnel.
According to the United Nations, almost 3,000 people have died in Syria since demonstrators took to the streets more than six months ago in protest against the government.
Meanwhile, the European Union on Thursday said it would expand its economic penalties targeting Syria, slapping sanctions on the nation’s largest bank, the Commercial Bank of Syria, which holds most of the nation’s foreign reserves, Reuters reported.
The EU, like the United States, has already imposed an array of sanctions, including banning oil imports from Syria, which relies heavily on oil revenue. Whether the sanctions will prompt political reforms or hasten the departure of the Assad regime remains unclear.
-- Patrick McDonnell