x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

UN: Syria death toll more than 4,000

The European Union also imposes new sanctions on Damascus.

BEIRUT // The death toll from Syria's crackdown on an 8-month-old revolt has exceeded 4,000 people and the country's leaders should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, the UN's top human rights official said yesterday.

The scathing criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay comes as the pressure piles on Syrian President Bashar Al Assad from home and abroad. But Mr Al Assad has shown no signs of softening, raising fears the country could be sliding toward civil war.

"We are placing the figure at 4,000 but really the information coming to us is that it's much more than that," Mr Pillay told reporters in Geneva.

Also yesterday, the European Union imposed new sanctions on Damascus, and the Syrian opposition called a general strike inside the country, ramping up efforts to persuade the country's business elite to abandon their long-standing ties to the regime.

The recent spate of economic sanctions from the EU, the Arab League and Turkey are punishing Syria's ailing economy, a dangerous development for the government in Damascus. Syrian business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges in the country, where the prosperous merchant classes are key to propping up the regime.

But the sanctions, coupled with increasing calls for strikes, could sap their resolve.

The new EU sanctions target 12 people and 11 companies, and add to a long list of those previously sanctioned by the EU. The full list of names of those targeted will not be known until they are published in the official journal of the EU on Friday.

The 27-member bloc also imposed some sanctions on Syria's ally Iran after an attack this week by a mob on the British Embassy in Tehran, the Iranian capital.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague accused Iran of supporting Mr Al Assad's crackdown, saying "there is a link between what is happening in Iran and what is happening in Syria."

The sanctions came as Syrian troops stormed a village in the central province of Hama, killing at least six people - the latest in what has become daily violence and bloodshed in the country.