BEIRUT — Syrian President Bashar Assad claimed the country’s “crisis” is drawing to a close even as forces unleashed tank shells on opponents Wednesday and U.S. sanctions took aim at the Syrian leader and his senior aides for their brutal crackdowns.
The messages from Damascus and Washington highlight a sharp divide: Western governments trying to boost pressure on Syria’s regime, but Assad displaying confidence he can ride it out.
Assad received a further boost when a call for nationwide strikes fell flat and longtime ally Russia vowed to stand against any U.N. resolutions that would sanction Syria.
Syria has banned foreign journalists and prevented coverage of the conflict, making it nearly impossible to independently verify accounts coming out of the country or gauge the strength of the unprecedented protest movement in one of the most authoritarian regimes in the Middle East.
But as the regime tightens its lockdown and broadens its campaign of intimidation, the regime eventually could frighten the population enough to keep them off the streets — a tactic used by Syria’s close partner Iran after unprecedented post-election chaos two years ago.
On Wednesday, witnesses said the Syrian army shelled the western border town of Talkalakh with tanks for the fourth consecutive day. Syrians fleeing to Lebanon in recent days have described horrific scenes of execution-style slayings and bodies in the streets in Talkalakh.
Activists say at least 27 people have been killed there since last week.