Syrian forces fired on protesters on Friday, killing at least 10, as thousands of people poured into the streets throughout the country to continue widespread protests against President Bashar al-Assad's rule.
The European Union also expanded sanctions on Syria and its regional ally, Iran, with the European Council saying that the "regime is calling its legitimacy into question" by opting for a "path of repression instead of fulfilling its own promises on broad reforms," according to CNN.
The protests on Friday were reportedly some of the largest in the three-month-old movement that has gripped Syria, according to the Los Angeles Times. Large demonstrations were reported in the cities of Homs and Hama, the suburbs of Damascus, the mainly Kurdish city of Qamishli in the north, and the eastern oil hub of Dair Alzour, according to accounts by activists. Video footage showed what appeared to be thousands of people in the streets. The reported death toll varied, with Reuters reporting that the Local Coordination Committees, an activists' group, said it had the names of 14 civilians killed in the city of Homs, the town of Kiswa south of Damascus and in the residential district of Barzeh in the capital. It is difficult to corroborate information coming from inside Syria because the regime has placed strict limits on media access.
On Thursday and into Friday, more than 1,500 Syrians fled into Turkey as the Syrian army moved closer to the border, witnesses said, according to the Washington Post. On Thursday, it surrounded a village just 500 meters from the Turkish border. (GlobalPost reported that the apparent bid to assert more control over the area had triggered a flood of refugee crossings into Turkey.)
The troop movements increased fears about possible clashes between Syria and Turkey. Turkey, once a strong ally, has grown more critical of the Syrian government since refugees started flooding the country.
The widespread protests Friday coincided with the European Union putting new sanctions on four Syrians, four Syrian businesses, and three Iranian officials for the crackdown on protesters in the country, the Los Angeles Times said. The Europeans say that Tehran, a close ally of the Assad government, is supporting the regime's brutal actions against the demonstrators.
According to the Christian Science Monitor:
But Europe's ability to squeeze Syria through sanctions is limited, says Daniel Korski, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Affairs in London.
"Most of Syria’s main trade partners are outside the EU – countries like Turkey, Russia, China, Korea, and Norway. That has made Syria more immune to sanctions," says Mr. Korski, who notes that Europe's indecision about whether to give Assad a chance to redeem himself has also weakened its leverage. "So soft sanctions haven’t worked and strong sanctions are outside the EU’s arsenal.”
The EU had already placed sanctions on 23 Syrians, including Assad himself and several of his closest aides.