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Turkey announces new sanctions on Syria

November 30, 2011 | 10:08 am

REPORTING FROM BEIRUT -- Adding to the pressure on Syria, Turkey on Wednesday announced tough new sanctions, including freezing government assets, suspending loans and banning all military sales.

The measures aim to persuade President Bashar Assad’s regime to halt a bloody crackdown on an 8-month-old uprising that has raised fears of a destabilizing civil war in the heart of the Middle East.

"Every bullet fired, every bombed mosque has eliminated the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership and has widened the gap between us," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference in Ankara, according to the English-language daily Zaman.  "Syria has squandered the last chance that it was given."

The United Nations says more than 3,500 people have been killed since major protests erupted in Syria in March. Opposition activists reported heavy gunfire Wednesday as security forces stormed the village of Dael in the southern Dara province. At least 16 people were killed around the country, according to the Local Coordination Committees, a major opposition network.

Most foreign journalists are barred from reporting in Syria and the accounts could not be independently verified.

Syrian officials say they are facing an armed insurgency backed from abroad, and more than 1,100 security force members have also been killed.  

They accuse Arab and Western nations of setting the stage for military intervention as happened in Libya, where a Western-led bombing campaign hastened the overthrow of Moammar Kadafi.  The official Syrian Arab News Agency has reported daily demonstrations against what it describes as foreign interference in the internal affairs of Syria.

In a television interview Tuesday, Davutoglu reiterated that Turkey has no desire to send its military into Syria but suggested that the international community might want to create some form of buffer zone if large numbers of refugees start fleeing toward Turkey, Iraq and Lebanon.  France has raised the possibility of creating what it describes as humanitarian corridors to get aid into Syria.

Syria's economy is already hurting under the weight of sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States, including an oil embargo. On Sunday, 19 of the Arab League’s 22 members approved additional punitive measures.

A number of the steps announced by Turkey were in the Arab League package, including a travel ban imposed on Syrian leaders and a halt of transactions with the country's central bank. Turkey had already suspended cooperation on oil exploration with Syria.

Turkey is one of Syria’s major trading partners. Once a close ally, it has become a vocal critic and offered sanctuary to opposition activists, as well as to Syrian military defectors who have turned their guns on Assad's regime.


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Photo: Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu addresses the media in Ankara, Turkey, on Wednesday as his government slapped economic sanctions on Syria. Credit: Associated Press