The European Union on Friday banned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s wife Asmaa, and his mother, sister and sister-in-law, from travelling in the EU, aiming to pressure him into ending a crackdown on popular unrest and restrict his family's luxury lifestyle.
Diplomats said European Union foreign ministers gathered in Brussels had agreed an assets freeze and travel ban on “Assad’s wife, mother, sister and sister-in-law,” and eight other members of his entourage.
Joining the talks, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said “it’s important that we tighten the diplomatic and economic stranglehold” on the Syrian regime.
“Their behavior continues to be murdering and totally unacceptable in the eyes of the world,” Hague said.
The EU must pile on the pressure “with sanctions which I hope will cover not only members of the regime but people associated closely with the regime,” he added.
The United States the new European Union sanctions against Assad’s family as a “very good step” amid international efforts to end his crackdown.
“We are gratified that the EU has taken yet another step in tightening the noose on the Assad regime,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels also expanded the list of people facing asset freezes and bans on travel to the EU to several other Syrians, and barred European companies from doing business with two Syrian oil companies, EU officials said.
The decisions, which come into force on Saturday, build on 12 previous rounds of sanctions aimed at isolating Assad, including an arms embargo and a ban on importing Syrian oil to the EU.
“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,” Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said on the sidelines of the EU ministers’ meeting in Brussels.
A London-born former investment banker working in mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare sector, Assad’s wife Asmaa once cultivated the image of a woman inspired by Western values.
But since the uprising against her husband started, she has become a hate figure for many Syrians, standing by him during a year-long uprising against Assad. She appears to have continued a life of luxury shopping and entertainment, while according to the U.N. at least 8,000 people have died in the violence.
Emails she exchanged with her husband obtained by Al Arabiya indicated they were buying pop music and other items on the internet during the bloodshed.
Assad has been the target of sanctions since May last year, but these have so far had little impact on his policies.
Violence has intensified in Syria in recent weeks as pro-government forces bombard rebel towns and villages, looking to sweep their lightly armed opponents out of their strongholds.
The international community has struggled to formulate a joint approach in the face of opposition from Russia and China to U.N. Security Council resolutions proposed by the West.
A list of people targeted by the latest EU sanctions is scheduled to be made public on Saturday.