EU sanctions Assad's wife; mortars hit Homs

Sanctions target Assad's family, two Syrian entities; envoy Kofi Annan to fly to Moscow and Beijing for talks.

By REUTERS
March 23, 2012 13:21
3 minute read.
Asma Assad [file]

Asma Assad 390 R. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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BEIRUT - The European Union slapped sanctions on the wife and mother of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Friday, increasing pressure on his government to halt a bloody crackdown against an armed uprising.

The two were among 12 Syrians added to a number of figures already facing EU restrictions, diplomats said. Amongst the measures approved by foreign ministers in Brussels was a travel ban and asset freeze for Assad's British-born wife, Asma.

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The decision came the day after more than 40 people died in clashes across Syria, with a UN Security Council call for an immediate end to the fighting going ignored.

Further violence was reported on Friday, with the army firing at least 24 mortar rounds into several districts of the rebellious city of Homs, in central Syria, killing at least two people, opposition activists said.

On the diplomatic front, the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who is leading international efforts to stop the relentless mayhem, planned to travel to Moscow and Beijing this weekend for talks on the crisis, his spokesman said.

Russia and China have resisted Western and Arab demands that Assad stand down and have vetoed two UN resolutions highly critical of Damascus. However, they supported this week's Council statement calling for peace, which analysts saw as a sign they are ready to adopt a tougher stance on Syria.

More than 8,000 people have died in the year-long uprising, according to UN figures, but Western powers have ruled out military intervention in such a sensitive part of the world, putting the emphasis instead on sanctions and diplomacy.

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Besides targeting Assad's inner family circle, EU foreign ministers also banned European companies from doing business with two Syrian entities, EU officials said.

A full list of sanctions targets will be made public on Saturday when the decision comes into force, but diplomats confirmed that Asma and other relatives were named.

"She is on the list. It's the whole clan," one EU diplomat said.

Asma dubs herself 'the real dictator'

A British-educated former investment banker, Asma cultivated the image of a glamorous yet serious-minded woman with strong Western-inspired values who was meant to humanize the increasingly secretive and isolated Assad family.

But that image crumbled when her husband responded to an anti-government rebellion with extreme violence a year ago.

She has stood resolutely by his side and described herself as "the real dictator" in an email published by Britain's Guardian newspaper last week. The stash of messages showed she had also made luxury online purchases in Britain as the fighting around Syria raged.

Her ancestral home is Homs, now a symbol of the revolt which has been subjected to particularly fierce government attack. Video from the city on Friday showed plumes of smoke rising from residential areas after being hit by apparent mortar fire.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is based in Britain and has a network of contacts in Syria, said the army clashed with defectors in the north-eastern town of Azaz, on the border with Turkey. Three soldiers and one defector were killed as the army fired heavy machine-guns and mortar rounds, it said.

Helicopters hovered overhead and smoke was seen rising from buildings. It is impossible to verify reports from Syria because authorities have denied access to independent journalists.

Syria has said 3,000 members of the security forces have died in the uprising, which Damascus blames on terrorist gangs and foreign interference.

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