BEIRUT — Syrian security forces opened fire Friday on thousands of protesters demanding regime change, killing more than 30 people in a sign that President Bashar Assad is prepared to ride out a wave of rapidly escalating international outrage.
The U.N. said it is sending a team into Syria to investigate, and the European Union is expected to place sanctions on Syrian officials next week — both significant blows to Assad, a British-educated, self-styled reformer who has tried to bring Syria back into the global mainstream over his 11 years in power.
Friday’s protests spanned the nation of 23 million from the capital to the Mediterranean coast and the arid northeast. The bloodshed was the latest spasm in what has become a weekly cycle of mass protests followed by a swift and deadly crackdown.
But pressure was mounting on Assad, who insists the unrest is a foreign conspiracy carried out by “terrorist groups.” More than 580 civilians and 100 soldiers have been killed since the revolt began, rights groups say.
“What it looks like here is a systematic attack on a civilian population, a political decision to shoot to kill unarmed demonstrators and that could very well be a crime against humanity,” Human Rights Watch counsel Reed Brody told AP Television News.
Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, is determined to crush the revolt that has now become the gravest challenge to his family’s 40-year dynasty.