WASHINGTON — The United States warned it would take "additional steps" against Syria if it continues a brutal crackdown on protesters, a week after imposing tough sanctions on the Arab nation.
"The United States believes that Syria's deplorable actions toward its people warrant a strong international response," the White House said in one of its strongest statements yet since the outbreak of unrest there.
It warned that unless President Bashar al-Assad's government halted its repression of peaceful pro-democracy protests, "the United States and its international partners will take additional steps to make clear our strong opposition to the Syrian government?s treatment of its people."
It also welcomed the European Union's decision to impose sanctions on Syrian officials "responsible for human rights abuses."
On April 29, the United States ordered the freezing and restricting of Syrian financial transactions, notably targeting Maher al-Assad, the powerful brother of the president, who commands Syria's feared Fourth Armored Division.
Also named in an executive order from President Barack Obama were Ali Mamluk, director of Syria's Intelligence Directorate, and Atif Najib, the former head of intelligence in Daraa province, the epicenter of political violence.
But the Obama administration stopped short of targeting the Syrian president himself, and has so far not withdrawn the US ambassador to Damascus, Robert Ford, who only arrived in January in a bid to improve relations.
The latest White House statement came after rights groups said Syrian security forces shot dead at least 26 protesters Friday during a huge "Day of Defiance" against the regime.
"We strongly condemn and deplore the Syrian government's use of violence and mass arrests in response to ongoing demonstrations," the statement said.
"We again salute the courage of Syrian protestors for insisting on their right to express themselves and we regret the loss of life on all sides."
It blamed Damascus for following "the lead of its Iranian ally in resorting to brute force and flagrant violations of human rights in suppressing peaceful protests."
"The United States and the international community will adjust their relations with Syria according to the concrete actions undertaken by the Syrian government," it added.
Late Friday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was "deeply troubled" that the Syrian government continues to use force and intimidation against the Syrian people.
"The United States condemns in the strongest terms the Syrian government's actions over the past five weeks and calls on it to immediately cease the killing, arrest, and harassment of protestors, activists, and journalists," Clinton said in a statement.
"I am particularly troubled by ongoing reports of deaths of citizens at the hands of the Syrian government, including accounts today that at least 30 people were killed when Syrian security forces again opened fire on peaceful protestors throughout the country."
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