BEIRUT, Lebanon — Syria saw a wave of violence and arrests Sunday as the head of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited Damascus to address issues including caring for the wounded and access to detainees during the government's crackdown on a 5-month-old uprising.
Activists reported military operations and arrests in flash point areas including Idlib near the Turkish border and the eastern city of Deir el-Zour. There were reports of deaths, but numbers were unclear.
The state-run news agency reported that nine people were killed in central Syria in an ambush by armed groups. The report, which could not be confirmed, said the victims were six soldiers and three civilians.
Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local media, making it difficult to verify reports. The regime blames the unrest on thugs and armed gangs and claims that security forces are the real victims.
The United Nations 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 by security forces. The regime is in no imminent danger of collapse, leading to concerns that violence will escalate.
ICRC President Jakob Kellenberger met with Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem on Sunday and was scheduled to meet President Bashar Assad today.
The government crackdown on dissent 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 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 United States has isolated Syria for decades and has little leverage with the regime.
On Sunday, a state-run newspaper in Syria criticized Europe's move. "Instead of playing an effective and positive political role, Europe shows its pent-up desire to evoke the colonial past," Al-Thawra newspaper said.
The head of the Arab League told reporters Sunday he plans to go to Syria this week to "talk frankly and convey existing concerns."
Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said he was not seeking guarantees of action from the government ahead of his visit.