WASHINGTON - The White House says it is considering sanctions against the Syrian government in response to the brutal crackdowns on protesters there.
Monday's statement from National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor was the first time officials had said publicly that sanctions were possible in Syria, where more than 300 people have been killed in an uprising against President Bashar Assad's regime.
The United States had issued increasingly forceful statements in recent days condemning the crackdown by Assad's government, but the violence has escalated.
Vietor said that the Obama administration is pursuing a range of possible policy options including targeted sanctions to make clear the government's actions are unacceptable.
The announcement came Monday as Syria sharply escalated its already deadly campaign to crush the protests, sending troops backed by tanks, snipers and knife-wielding security forces into the southern city where the rebellion began.
A witness said at least 11 people were killed and others were gravely wounded in the streets. Dozens of protesters were arrested, witnesses and activists said.
More than 300 people have been killed across the country since the uprising began. But the relentless crackdowns on unarmed demonstrators have only served to embolden protesters, who started with calls for modest reforms but are now increasingly demanding Assad's downfall.
"We need international intervention. We need countries to help us," shouted a witness in Daraa, who said he saw five corpses after security forces opened fire on a car. He spoke to The Associated Press by telephone.
Another witness said people were using mosque loudspeakers in Daraa to summon doctors to help the wounded as busloads of security forces and troops conducted house-to-house searches, causing panic in the streets.
"They are entering houses, they are searching the houses," he said. "They are carrying knives and guns."