The EU slapped sanctions on the mother, sister and influential wife of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, increasing pressure on his country to halt its bloody crackdown against a year-long uprising.
The trio were among 12 Syrians added to a list of figures already hit with EU travel bans and asset freezes, diplomats said. Foreign ministers in Brussels also barred European firms from trading with two Syrian oil companies.
“With this new listing we are striking at the heart of the Assad clan, sending out a loud and clear message to Mr Assad: he should step down,” said Dutch foreign minister Uri Rosenthal.
The decision came on a day of renewed violence across Syria, with the army firing at least 24 mortar rounds into the rebellious city of Homs, in central Syria, killing up to eight civilians, opposition supporters said.
Live television feeds from around Syria showed a slew of anti-Assad rallies, including in the Damascus district of Barzeh, the northwestern city of Hama, Qamishli in the Kurdish east, and the southern city of Deraa.
“Damascus here we come,” read several placards held up by the relatively small crowds. Activists said eight people were wounded after demonstrations near five Damascus mosques were broken up.
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 Mr Assad stand down and have vetoed two UN resolutions highly critical of Damascus.
However, they supported a Security Council statement this week calling for peace, in a move that analysts saw as a sign they were adopting a tougher stance on Syria.
Nevertheless, both Russia and China voted against a call by the UN Human Rights Council yesterday to extend a probe into violations committed by Syrian forces. The motion passed regardless, with 41 of the forum’s 47 members voting in favour.
More than 8,000 people have died in the rebellion, according to UN figures, but Western powers have ruled out military intervention in such a sensitive part of the world, putting the emphasis on economic sanctions and diplomacy.
The new EU sanctions build on 12 previous rounds of sanctions aimed at isolating Mr Assad, including an arms embargo and a ban on importing Syrian oil to the EU.
Full details will be released today, when the measures come into force, but diplomats confirmed that Mr Assad’s British-born wife was on the new list.
A former investment banker, Asma cultivated the image of a glamorous yet serious-minded woman with strong Western-inspired values but that image has crumbled over the past year.
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