The call from anti-government activists for a general strike on Wednesday May 18 via the Facebook group ‘Syrian Revolution 2011’ went unheeded.

The site called for students and shop owners to stay home in a bid to slow the economy to a halt, “in a new strategy of defiance against government crackdowns that appear to be turning more brutal and bloody,” reported privately-owned Syrian news agency, Day Press News.

Some media reports indicated a few had observed the strike in Homs and other cities, but the privately-owned Al-Watan daily reported that “some tried to impose the strike by force in the market in Homs” and that “most Syrians refused the notion of a general strike”.

But the newspaper reported demonstrations took place in Qamishle in north-east Syria in solidarity with Dara’a and Tel Kalakh and other minor demonstrations took place in Idleb and Homs.

An official military source said on Tuesday eight military personnel were killed and five injured in fights with "armed terrorist groups" in the southern province of Daraa and the western town of Talkalakh, Syria’s SANA news agency reported.

The news agency also said a large number of “wanted gunmen and weapons” were seized in raids across the country, adding that “8,881 rioters have turned themselves in” under an amnesty offered to protesters, which expires on May 22.

US Imposes Sanctions on President Assad, Syria condemns

The US has imposed sanctions on top Syrian officials including President Bashar al-Assad in response to the authorities’ handling of the unrest which began in March, Reuters reported.

Following the announcement, a Syrian official source told SANA that “sanctions come within U.S regional plans and serve the interests of Israel.”

The announcement came a day before US President Obama was due to give a major speech where he is expected to unveil a multi-billion dollar economic plan for the Arab world, modeled on post-Soviet Eastern Europe where international and US banks played a major role.

As well as the president, the sanctions impose asset freezes and travel bans on six other top officials including Vice President Farouq al-Shara, Prime Minister Adel Safar, Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Defense Minister Ali Habib plus Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, head of Syrian military intelligence, and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, director of the political security directorate.

"The United States and its allies are wasting no time in putting pressure on Syria to force it to change its regional policies," Al-Watan said.

"What is happening in Syria is part of a US plan aimed at weakening Syria and cutting off its alliance with the resistance," it added, referring to Iran, Lebanon’s powerful resistant group Hezbollah and the Palestinian faction Hamas.

Also named in Obama’s executive order were Ali Mamluk, director of Syria’s Intelligence Directorate, and Atif Najib, the ex-head of intelligence in Daraa province, epicentre of the political violence.

Yesterday Switzerland also imposed sanctions on the government in line with already existing EU sanctions which include an arms embargo an asset freeze and travel bans on 13 top officials.

International pressure on the government has been mounting in recent weeks. UN chief Ban Ki-Moon told AFP on Wednesday that President Assad should make major reforms now, “before it is too late”.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told reporters in a press conference that “the Syrian government should be given the required time to fulfill the reforms announced. We shouldn’t put pressure on Syria by adopting resolutions against it,” SANA reported.

In other related news, Al-Watan, a privately-owned daily, said opposition leaders in Europe will meet with an Israeli official in Vienna.

The Syrian government claims an international conspiracy of foreign nations backing “armed gangs” is behind the recent unrest.

Syria Today (Syria)