US warns Syria over deadly reprisals against protesters

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has warned Syria it will face more international pressure over its crackdown on popular protests, behaviour she called “a sign of remarkable weakness.”

Speaking on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting in Greenland, Clinton and her Danish counterpart Lene Espersen raised anew the possibility of tighter US and European sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Clinton lamented that Syria has continued with “a brutal crackdown” against pro-democracy protesters despite what she called overwhelming international condemnation.

The chief US diplomat said that since the start of the Syrian uprising in mid-March hundreds of people had been killed and that unlawful detentions, torture, and denial of medical care to the wounded had taken place.

“There may be some who think that this is a sign of strength but treating one’s own people in this way is in fact a sign of remarkable weakness,” she said, reiterating President Barack Obama’s and her own condemnation of Syria.

“The recent events in Syria make it clear that the country cannot return to the way it was before,” she said, adding tanks, bullets and clubs would not help Syria meet its economic and political challenges.

“Relying on Iran as your best friend and your only strategic ally is not a viable way forward,” she said of Syria.

“Syria’s future will only be secured by a government that reflects the popular will of all of the people and protects their welfare.”

Meanwhile, the US embassy in Damascus said Syrian security forces wielding clubs and batons “brutally assaulted” peaceful protesters in the city of Aleppo.

“The United States believes there should be no double standard.

“The Syrian government should grant all Syrians the right to express themselves peacefully,” the embassy said in a statement released in Washington.

Clinton warned Assad that he faced “increasing isolation” over his government’s actions, but gave no sign Assad himself would be sanctioned, as members of his regime already have.

Washington would “continue to work with our international partners in the EU (European Union) and elsewhere on additional (ways) to hold Syria responsible for its gross human rights abuses,” she said.

“We are working with our international partners to make as strong a case as possible to sanction those who are leading and implementing the policies that are coming from the government,” she added.

“I think it’s fair to say that we are going to hold the Syrian government accountable. Now how that happens and what the timeline is something we are working on as we speak,” said the top US diplomat.

“The United States along with Denmark and our other colleagues are going to be looking for ways to increase the pressure,” she said.

US lawmakers have been calling for tougher US actions on Syria, saying the approach has been softer than the one taken toward other Arab leaders facing popular uprisings.

Espersen said meanwhile that the European Union, which has already imposed sanctions of its own on Syrian officials but not Assad, are now calling on Syria to “deliver on the promises” it has made on political reform.

“If the Syrian leadership does not deliver on reform, we are prepared to tighten the sanctions against the Syrian regime,” Espersen said.

Between 600 and 700 people have been killed and at least 8000 arrested since the start of the protest movement in mid-March in Syria, human rights groups say.

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