EU foreign ministers slapped a 15th round of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad because of the “appalling violence” in Syria and discussed further support for envoy Kofi Annan’s peace plan.
The new EU sanctions, to take effect today, mean 129 people and 43 firms or utilities are now targeted by an assets freeze and travel ban for backing the regime’s 14-month campaign of relentless repression.
“The continuing violence is appalling and we continue to look again at sanctions,” EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said.
The last sanctions came barely a month ago, targeting the lifestyle of the al-Assad clique with a ban on luxury goods exports. The bloc this year also froze central bank assets and restricted trade in precious metals as it tightened the noose on Damascus following an arms and oil embargo.
“The ceasefire is not being fully implemented,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said. “There continues to be killing, torture, abuse in Syria. So it’s very important we keep the pressure on the Assad regime.”
“We must maintain political pressure,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said.
Ministers also urged a quick deployment of all ceasefire observers under the peace plan brokered by Annan, the UN-Arab League envoy. The EU sees the plan as the only possible way to avoid all-out civil war in Syria.
“I hope all of them will come in as soon as possible,” Swedish -Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said. “We do see that that leads to a sort of reduction in violence and repression in areas where they are able to be.”
A failure of the Annan plan would be “a rapid descent into sectarian civil war,” Bildt said. “That would be profoundly devastating for Syria and the entire region.”
Meanwhile, fierce clashes between Syrian regime forces and armed rebels in the central city of Rastan yesterday left at least 23 soldiers dead and dozens wounded, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Britain-based monitoring group said initial reports indicated that three troop carriers were destroyed in the clashes that began at dawn on the outskirts of the rebel-held city, located in Homs Province.