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EU piles pressure on Syria, targets Iran allies

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(BRUSSELS) - The European Union piled pressure on the Syrian regime on Friday, warning that its legitimacy was undermined by a brutal crackdown and imposing sanctions on three of its Iranian military allies.

EU leaders holding a summit in Brussels were to adopt a declaration condemning the "unacceptable and shocking violence the Syrian regime continues to apply on its own citizen," according to a draft obtained by AFP.

"By choosing a path of repression instead of fulfilling its own promises on broad reforms, the regime is calling its legitimacy into question," says the draft.

"Those responsible for crimes and violence against civilians shall be held accountable," it says amid a crackdown which Syrian rights groups say has left more than 1,300 people dead while 10,000 have been arrested.

The Facebook group Syrian Revolution 2011, one of the motors of the protests, has called on Syrians to stage more rallies after the main Friday Muslim prayers.

The theme for the protests, it said, is "Bashar is no longer my president and his government no longer represents me."

Such protests are regularly crushed by the security forces, with dozens killed most Fridays.

The violence rocking the country took a dramatic twist on Thursday when troops backed by tanks entered a border zone, sending hundreds of people fleeing into Turkey and prompting US warnings of risks for the region.

Seeking a global condemnation of the violence, the EU declaration calls for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution slamming the crackdown launched by President Bashar al-Assad against pro-democracy protests which first erupted on March 15, a move opposed by veto-wielding member Russia.

The declaration "lends its full support to diplomatic efforts aimed at ensuring that the UN Security Council can assume its responsibility and give adequate response to the situation in Syria."

The text also welcomes the adoption of new sanctions against Syria, adding three commanders of Iran's Revolutionary Guard along with four Syrians and four businesses to a list of people hit by an assets freeze and EU travel ban.

The EU has already imposed sanctions on 23 Syrians, including Assad and his closest associates.

Brigadier Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari, head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, was added to the new list published in the EU Official Journal on Friday, along with Major General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the guards' Qods unit, and Hossein Taeb, deputy commander for intelligence.

They were all accused of "providing equipment and support to help the Syria regime suppress protests in Syria," the Journal said.

Syria has reacted angrily to the EU sanctions, with Foreign Minister Walid Muallem saying this week they were "equivalent to war" and denying receiving assistance from Iran or Lebanon's militant group Hezbollah in putting down the protests.

The United States voiced concerns of potential consequences for the region after Syrian troops stormed the border village of Khirbet al-Joz, where many of the displaced had massed, an activist at the scene told AFP.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the troop build-up was "worrisome" as it could increase the chances of a border clash and spell fresh misery for refugees fleeing a crackdown following pro-democracy protests.

Correspondents said hundreds of people broke through barbed wire marking the frontier on Thursday to seek haven in Turkey, advancing on a road a few kilometres (miles) from the village of Guvecci.

The new exodus has pushed the number of Syrians sheltering in Turkey close to 12,000 after some 1,500 refugees poured across the border on Thursday and Friday, Turkish officials said.

"We are very concerned by the reports that the Syrian military has surrounded and targeted the village of Khirbet al-Joz, which is located roughly 500 metres from the Turkish border," Clinton told reporters in Washington.

"If true, that aggressive action will only exacerbate the already unstable refugee situation in Syria," she said, calling it a "very worrisome development."

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