Pro-democracy protests continue in Syria even as the government of Syrian President Bashar al Assad escalates its violent efforts to quell them.
Human rights monitors now say that close to four hundred people have been killed since protests broke out in mid-March, and hundreds more have been detained in raids by government security forces.
In the face of the government's recent military operations in the southern city of Daraa, Amnesty International said, "The Syrian government's brutal reaction to its people's demand for change has reached a new and outrageous low. ... The Syrian government has shown its determination to crush the peaceful protests at virtually any cost, whatever the price in Syrians' lives." Human Rights Watch interviewed protesters in other cities, including Homs, Ezraa, Douma, and Maadamiya, who reported that security forces opened fire on them without warning. Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch said, "President Bashar al-Assad's promises of reform mean nothing while his security forces are free to kill peaceful protesters."
In a statement, President Barack Obama condemned "in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators." He called the violence "outrageous," and demanded that it stop. "President Assad and the Syrian authorities," he said, "have placed their personal interests ahead of the interests of the Syrian people. . . .President Assad is blaming outsiders while seeking Iranian assistance in repressing Syria's citizens through the same brutal tactics that have been used by his Iranian allies. We call on President Assad to change course now."
White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the United States "is pursuing a range of possible policy options, including targeted sanctions, to respond to the crackdown in Syria and to make clear that this behavior is unacceptable." The U.S., he pointed out, already has an aggressive regime of unilateral sanctions already in place against Syria. Those were imposed because of Syria's support for terrorism, its destructive involvement in Lebanon, its weapons of mass destruction programs, and the destabilizing role it has played in Iraq. Any new measures would be in addition to present sanctions, said Mr. Carney: "But we are certainly looking at different ways to make clear to the Syrian government how appalling we find their behavior [against the protesters] to be and to encourage them. . . .to stop the violence and to move towards serious reform."