(CNN) -- The Council of the European Union condemned Monday "in the strongest terms the ongoing repression in Syria" and the violence meted out by military and security forces to peaceful protesters, which have led to hundreds of casualties.
Meeting in Brussels, Belgium, the council adopted conclusions that call for those responsible to be held accountable and called on Syrian leaders to grant access to representatives of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
"The EU is deeply concerned at continuing mass arrests, intimidations and instances of torture and calls for their immediate halt," the council said. It also called for the release of those arrested for participating in peaceful protests and of all political prisoners and human rights defenders.
"Syria must abide by its international commitments, in particular its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and uphold the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression," it said.
The condemnation came amid new reports of protests in Syria, where the government of President Bashar al-Assad has unleashed his security forces on protests against his rule in several cities. Witnesses reported checkpoints going up in central Damascus as police broke up demonstrations in the capital and in the northern city of Homs on Monday.
The EU Council expressed concern about the refusal of Syrian authorities to let international journalists report freely inside the country and condemned "the arrests and intimidations of Syrian journalists by the authorities."
The union said further that it was "deeply troubled" by the military closure of such cities as Daraa, Banias and Homs and by reports that those in need don't have ready access to medical treatments and basic services.
In response, the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency, citing "an official source in the name of the Syrian Arab Republic," said ''Syria deplores and condemns the conclusions issued by the EU against it and its people while Syria seeks to preserve its security and stability and to get engaged in a comprehensive national dialog that leads to completing the reform plans in economic, political and social fields, according to the specified national timetable.''
The source said the EU conclusions, "like those of the U.S., clearly aim at flagrant interference in Syria's internal affairs and an attempt to destabilize it and control its people's decisions and capabilities at present and in the future.''
"Today, the Europeans added a new black page to their history in our region when they took measures to provoke Mr. President Bashar al-Assad," Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said on Syrian state television. "They placed themselves against the Syrian people."
The dueling statements came a day after about 7,000 Syrians turned out to bury four people killed Saturday in Homs, about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of Damascus.
The latest round of violence in the Syrian anti-government protests began Friday, when at least 44 people died in Homs and other cities, according to the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria. Syrian security personnel fired at demonstrators, the group said.
Protesters in Syria have been calling for government reforms and an end to political repression, part of the so-called Arab Spring, in which protests have erupted in countries throughout the Middle East and North Africa.
Syria casts the demonstrators as "terrorists" and "criminals" trying to destabilize the government. Syria also describes members of the security forces killed in the battles as "martyrs."
The Syrian Arab News Agency said Sunday that 32 "martyrs" had been killed "since the beginning of the events in Syria," and 547 had been wounded.