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2 killed in Syrian raid on northern village; soldiers believed hunting alleged defector
BEIRUT (AP) ' Syrian security forces searching for an alleged high-profile defector from President Bashar Assad's regime killed two people after storming a northern village Saturday, raising the death toll from the past two days to at least 19, activists said.
A day earlier, security forces trying to crush almost six months of demonstrations against the authoritarian leadership fired on thousands of marchers, killing 17 people, most of them in suburbs of the capital Damascus.
The crackdown has drawn international criticism and sanctions. The European Union announced Friday it was banning oil imports from Syria, which will cost the embattled regime millions of dollars each day.
While Assad brushed off earlier condemnation as foreign meddling, the oil embargo is significant because Damascus gets about 28 percent of its revenue from the oil trade and sells fuel to France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. Some analysts believe Syria is getting financial assistance from Iran, which would cushion the EU blow.
The EU will do more, the bloc's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said Saturday after meetings in Poland with top diplomats of member states. Ashton told reporters in Poland ban on Syrian oil imports was an attempt to achieve a political outcome by economic means.
"And we will continue to put that pressure on, to look for ways of doing so, to try and support the people," she said.
The United States has hit more than 30 Syrian officials, including Assad himself, with economic sanctions, banned any U.S. import of Syrian oil or petroleum products, and frozen all Syrian government assets subject to American jurisdiction. But the U.S. has isolated Syria for decades and has little leverage with the regime.
Saturday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland welcome the EU oil import ban.
"The United States and our international partners will continue to add political and economic pressure in an effort to force President Assad to step aside and allow the Syrian people to effect a peaceful transition that is democratic and inclusive for all Syrians," Nuland said.
The U.N. estimates some 2,200 people have been killed since March as protesters take to the streets every week, despite the near-certainty that they will face a barrage of bullets and sniper fire. The regime is in no imminent danger of collapse, leading to concerns violence will escalate.
In the Damascus suburb of Douma on Saturday, thousands of mourners marched behind the body of a man killed by gunfire Friday near a mosque. Mourners seen on video posted online by residents shouted "freedom!" and "God is great." Thousands of people marched Friday under the slogan: "Death Rather Than Humiliation."
Activists said troops on Saturday raided a village near the town of Maaret al-Numan in the northern province of Idlib, killing two people.
The Local Coordination Committees activist network and the London-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported the deaths.
The Observatory, which has a wide network of activists on the ground in Syria, cited a local activist saying troops taking part in Saturday's raid in Idlib, an area close to the Turkish border, were searching for Adnan Bakkour, attorney general for the central Hama province, who appeared in two videos Wednesday declaring his resignation to protest the crackdown.
Bakkour's alleged resignation appeared to be a high-profile defection, but authorities said that "terrorists" had kidnapped him and forced him to make the recording. Bakkour denied that in one of the videos.
One activist said there were attempts to smuggle Bakkour out of Syria to Turkey through Idlib. He spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
Zeina Karam can be reached on http://twitter.com/zkaram