Activist: Syrian gunmen snatch, beat up cartoonist

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“That doesn’t mean that we can let the Syrian people get massacred by a regime that disqualifies itself from one day to the next,” he said.

Also Wednesday, the European Union imposed sanctions against an elite unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, saying the Quds Force is providing equipment and other support to help Assad crush the revolt.

The sanctions broadened the international pressure against Syria by directly targeting its key ally Iran, which the U.S. and other nations have accused of aiding the crackdown.

The EU’s official journal, which published the statement, said the Quds Force “has provided technical assistance, equipment and support to the Syrian security services to repress civilian protest movements.”

Other new targets of the sanctions include several Syrian generals and close associates of Assad’s younger brother, Maher, who is believed to be in command of much of the crackdown. Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister and special envoy for Bashar Assad, also was named.

The EU blacklist on Syria now contains 50 people and nine entities who face asset freezes and travel bans as punishment for one of the deadliest government crackdowns of the Arab Spring. Syria already is under broad sanctions from the U.S. and European countries, but calls for stricter measures have been on the rise.

Despite the harsh words, the Syrian crackdown continued.

Tanks stormed the eastern city of Deir el-Zour and made sweeping arrests there Wednesday, according to Syrian activists. Deir el-Zour is an oil-rich but impoverished region known for its well-armed clans and tribes whose ties extend across eastern Syria and into Iraq.

On Tuesday, European nations and the U.S. circulated a draft U.N. Security Council resolution seeking an arms embargo and other sanctions.

Syria has banned foreign media and restricted local coverage, making it impossible to independently confirm events on the ground. While widespread witness accounts and amateur video footage describe a brutal crackdown by security forces, Syria’s state-run news agency says security forces are the real victims of gunmen and extremists.

Assad has exploited fears of chaos in Syria, with the regime portraying him as the only man who can guarantee peace in a country with a potentially volatile mix of religious groups.

The opposition, however, says the protest movement is free of sectarian overtones and is simply demanding freedom and democracy. The opposition took steps toward forming a national council Tuesday, but serious divisions have prevented them from presenting a unified front.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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