BRUSSELS - The European Union is set to impose a new round of sanctions against the inner circle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as fresh clashes broke out across the country on Friday.
European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels are expected to impose a travel ban and asset freeze against several members of the president’s family, including his British-born wife, Asma al-Assad.
Mrs. Assad gained recent attention after emails obtained by Britain’s Guardian newspaper allegedly revealed that she went on large shopping sprees while Syria descended into violence. It is not clear if the ban would prevent her from traveling to Britain.
The EU has already responded to President Assad’s year-long bloody crackdown on dissent by imposing a broad range of sanctions, including a ban on Syrian oil imports and measures against its central bank.
Meanwhile, opposition activists reported continued violence on Friday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA three Syrian army defectors were killed during heavy fighting in Azaz, near the border with Turkey. It also said that Syrian forces continued their assault on the central city of Homs - the site of a highly publicized siege earlier in the year.
Rights groups said at least 60 people were killed during violence on Thursday, one day after the United Nations Security Council called for the government and opponents to enact a peace plan proposed by a U.N. envoy.
Speaking in Malaysia Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said a Security Council statement has sent a “clear” message to the Syrian government and signals a “turning point” in the international community’s response to the crisis.
“All the violence must stop. And, there should be a political negotiation, inclusive political negotiation for the resolution of this issue, in a way which can meet the aspiration of the Syrian people and also humanitarian access should be established,'’ he said.
The Security Council approved the so-called “presidential statement” Wednesday threatening Syria with unspecified “further steps” if international envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace proposal is rejected.
Activists welcomed the action. VOA spoke with a Syrian activist living in the United States, who prefers to remain anonymous. She says activists in Syria and abroad see the Security Council statement as a “successful step.”
“We see this as a very good step toward the right actions to stand with the Syrian people and also like a very good step to establish a transitional plan,” she said.
The United Nations says at least 8,000 people have been killed in the Assad government’s violent crackdown on the revolt, which began with peaceful protests and became increasingly militarized as army defectors attacked pro-Assad troops who assaulted civilians.
The international community will hold its second “Friends of Syria” meeting next month in Istanbul amid efforts to bring the year-long government crackdown to an end. The U.S. State Department announced Thursday that U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will attend the meeting on April 1.
Source: VOA News