(photo credit: REUTERS)
BRUSSELS - The European Union will look into imposing fresh sanctions on Syria including blacklisting more people over the development and use of chemical arms, according to a draft statement by the bloc's foreign ministers.
The ministers meet on Monday to discuss Syria amid the prospect of Western military action after a suspected chemical attack by the government on April 7. Any strike risks a confrontation with Russia, which has been instrumental in President Bashar al-Assad's gains in the war.
Senior EU officials on Friday said that "evidence clearly points to the Syrian regime" in investigations over a gas attack on the town of Douma, which killed dozens of people.
US President Donald Trump warned of military strikes in response and EU member France said it had proof the Syrian government carried it out.
British Prime Minister Theresa May won backing from her ministers to take action with the United States and France to deter further use of chemical weapons by Syria.
Germany, Italy and the Netherlands say they will not join any military action. The rest of the EU has mostly refused to discuss their stance in preparing their ministers' Monday talks.
Diplomats and officials in Brussels stressed the ministers' draft statement, prepared in advance and seen by Reuters, could change over the weekend depending on developments.
Currently, it refers to the EU's existing sanctions on Syria, which blacklist 257 people for "violent repression" of civilians, as well as for benefiting from or supporting the regime. Nearly 70 entities have also had their EU assets frozen.
"The EU will continue to consider further restrictive measures against Syria as long as the repression continues," the ministers will say on Monday, according to the draft text.
"In July 2017 and in March 2018, the EU imposed additional restrictive measures on Syrian high-level officials and scientists for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons and is ready to consider imposing further measures going forward."
The EU will also reiterate it would not pay for rebuilding Syria without political dialog between Damascus and the opposition, criticize Russia, Iran and Turkey for their military interventions in Syria, and call for accountability for crimes committed in the war, including the use of chemical weapons.
For now, the statement does not mention any military steps, something Fadel Abdul Ghany, head of the Syrian Network for Human Rights, called for as he briefed EU diplomats this week.
"That would be the only way to stop civilian killings and push Assad and his backers towards talks," Ghany told Reuters. "We need to... weaken them militarily in a significant way. It should not be a single hit but a strategic plan."