9 Killed as Syrian Protesters Call for 'Unity of the Opposition'

At least nine deaths were reported in Syria on Friday, a traditional day for protests, as the EU and Switzerland both said they were widening sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said in a statement that nine civilians were shot dead by security forces in the Homs area in the center of the country.

"Nine civilians were killed in the Homs region: six in three districts of the city itself, a girl in Qusseir, a young man in Talbisseh and another in the village of Zaafaraniya," the rights group said.

In Zabadani, some 45 kilometers northwest of the capital Damascus, a passer-by shot as security forces chased demonstrators late on Thursday died of his wounds, it said.

The Local Coordination Committees (LCC) group reported Friday's death toll as 12 -- eight in Homs including a five-year-old child, two in Douma, one in Zabadani and one in Damascus.

The Observatory also said nearly 2,000 people staged a demonstration in the eastern oil hub of Deir al-Zour, calling for Assad's downfall.

State television said "six security agents were wounded in Deir al-Zour by armed terrorist groups."

More than 10,000 demonstrators also gathered in four locations in the predominantly Kurdish province of Hassakeh in the northeast, and protests were also reported in the southern Daraa region.

The office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva has said the death toll from the crackdown on dissent since March 15 has risen to more than 2,700.

Human rights group Amnesty International said it had uncovered evidence that an 18-year-old girl, whose mutilated body was discovered in a Homs mortuary last week two months after her arrest, was the first woman among more than 100 Syrians to have died in custody since the protests erupted.

The London-based watchdog said the family of Zainab al-Hosni discovered her body "by chance" and "in horrific circumstances," while collecting the body of her activist elder brother Mohammad Dib, who was also apparently tortured and killed in detention.

Her body had been decapitated and its arms and skin removed, Amnesty said.

The latest deaths come as both the European Union and Switzerland announced they were widening sanctions against Damascus.

The European Union banned new investments in the oil sector and prohibited the delivery of banknotes to Syria's central bank.

"The EU restrictive measures are designed to have maximum impact on the Syrian regime, while minimizing any potential negative impacts on the Syrian population," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels.

The 27-member EU also added two individuals and six companies to a list of people and entities facing an assets freeze and travel ban, a diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

The new measures, the seventh set of EU sanctions imposed to punish Assad's regime for its relentless crackdown, come into force on Saturday.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement "they show again that we will not stand by while President Assad and his regime violently suppress the legitimate demands of the Syrian people."

Earlier this month, the EU adopted a ban on crude oil imports expected to hit Damascus hard, as the EU buys 95 percent of Syrian oil exports, providing a third of the regime's hard currency earnings.

Switzerland's economy ministry also announced on Friday it was imposing an embargo on the import, sales and transport of Syrian oil and oil products "due to the relentless repression imposed by the Syrian security forces."

Its sanctions too take effect on Saturday.

Switzerland had already targeted the Assad regime with travel embargoes and asset freezes on 54 individuals. Some 12 companies were also hit by the restrictions.

Syrian assets frozen in Switzerland currently stand at 45 million francs (37 million euros, $50 million).

Damascus does not accept that popular opposition to the authorities exists, instead blaming "armed gangs" and "terrorists" for trying to sow chaos.

Source: Agence France Presse

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