The European Union agreed to impose sanctions on Syrian oil exports on Friday, escalating pressure on President Bashar al-Assad as protesters across Syria vowed to choose "death rather than humiliation."
"The sanctions have been agreed," an official said in the Polish resort of Sopot where EU foreign ministers were meeting, adding they had also added four people and three entities to the EU sanctions list against Syria.
As the EU tightened the economic screws on Assad, demonstrations broke out across Syria, with larger numbers in rural regions to circumvent heavy troops and army presence in urban areas, activists and residents said.
They reported security forces shooting at several protests, including in the Damascus suburbs, the central city of Hama, and the restive provinces of Idlib and Dera'a, but had no immediate word on casualties.
"Death rather than humiliation!" chanted protesters in the village Kfra Zita in rural Hama, according to a YouTube video released by residents.
"Oh mother, Bashar is in his last days," chanted a crowd in the town of Kfar Nubbul in northern Idlib province, carrying a banner that compared the modest international response to Syria's uprising compared to interventions in major oil states.
"We don't have oil like Iraq or Libya, don't we deserve to live?" it said.
The weekly protests after the main Friday prayers have become a feature of the five-month uprising against Assad.
Over the past few months, the EU has imposed travel bans and asset freezes against 35 Syrian government officials and military and police commanders, including President Bashar Assad himself.
Syria gets about 28 percent of its revenue from the oil trade and sells fuel to France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands. The EU has in the past been been reluctant to ban Syrian oil and gas imports for fear shortages might hurt the Syrian public and small businesses.
The EU oil embargo will bring the 27-nation bloc in line with the latest U.S. moves to isolate Assad's regime, including a ban on the import of petroleum or related products.
Some EU nations have been lobbying for other sectors to be added to the sanctions regime, including telecommunications and banking.
In a round of talks on the sidelines of a Paris summit on Libya on Thursday, the U.S., Britain and France discussed plans to escalate international action aimed at halting the violence.
"President Assad's brutality against unarmed citizens has outraged the region, the world and most importantly the Syrian people themselves," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said in Paris.
In what appeared to be a high-profile defection from the regime, a Syrian attorney general appeared on video late Wednesday declaring his resignation to protest the crackdown.
Adnan Bakkour, attorney general for the central Hama province, said security forces killed hundreds of people in the restive city of Hama and arrested thousands of "peaceful protesters."
The Associated Press could not verify the authenticity of the video. Syria has banned foreign journalists and restricted local coverage, making it difficult to independently confirm events on the ground.