EU sanctions will not target Assad


SENIOR EUROPEAN diplomats have resolved to impose sanctions on 13 members of the Syrian regime but stopped short of targeting President Bashar al-Assad and his defence minister Ali Habib Mahmoud.

The sanctions are the first European penalties against officials involved in the deadly government crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators. They will freeze the assets of the individuals concerned and ban them from travelling in the European Union.

Mr Assad has promised reforms but he stands accused of ordering the seven-week offensive against pro-democracy protesters by his security forces. About 600 people have died in the violence.

“It was decided in principle to put 13 people on the sanctions list. We expect this decision will be officially adopted in the next week,” said an EU source.

In an effort to prevent the people concerned from taking action to evade the penalties, they will not be named by the European authorities until the sanctions take effect. The decision by EU diplomats will be formally approved if no member state objects.

France campaigned with German and British support to target the president and his defence chief, but they met resistance from Cyprus, Malta, Italy and Greece.

It is understood that these countries argued it would be better to hold some penalties in reserve to give Europe scope to intensify pressure on the regime at a later date.

The source said it remained open to member states to sanction Mr Assad and Mr Mahmoud at any point in the future. Further options open to European governments include targeting the country’s oil industry and other export sectors.

The decision not to include Mr Assad mirrors the United States sanctions approved last week by President Barack Obama. These targeted the country’s intelligence agency and two relatives of Mr Assad. Mr Obama has come under pressure from Republicans and Democrats in the House of Representatives to step up the sanctions.

The protests began in mid-March, with 3,000 people arrested in the past week. Human rights groups say detainees have been brought before the courts accused of “harming the prestige of the state and inciting riots”.

Mr Assad has blamed foreign-led conspirators for the protests, saying they are subverting legitimate grievances. He appointed a new cabinet and brought emergency rule to an end after 48 years but these steps have not halted the demonstrations.