The European Union agreed Monday to slap new sanctions on the Syrian regime, banning exports of luxury goods and further restricting the sale of items used to repress protesters, a diplomat said.
“These sanctions are ready to be put in place against Syria,” the diplomat told AFP after EU ambassadors agreed on the sanctions ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
The extent of the luxury ban has yet to be defined but the aim is to deliver a symbolic blow against the posh lifestyle of President Bashar al-Assad and his glamorous British-born wife Asmaa, another diplomat said.
“The Assad couple, as well as his inner circle and leaders of the regime must be made to understand that events in Syria will also impact their personal lives,” a European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity told AFP.
The EU also decided to expand the blacklist to dual-use goods which can be used for internal repression or for the manufacturing of equipment used for internal repression.
Russia during the weekend condemned the idea of new EU sanctions.
“Our position concerning such sanctions is well known,” said foreign affairs ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich. “We judge them unacceptable from the point of view of international law.”
The 14th round of EU sanctions comes as violence continues in Syria despite the presence of U.N. truce observers in the country.
The EU a month ago tightened the noose on Assad’s family, slapping a travel ban and asset freeze on his wife, mother and sister in the 13th round of EU sanctions in a year.
His immediate family was among 12 people and two oil companies added to an existing EU blacklist totaling 126 people and 41 firms or utilities.
Damascus selling gold for cash
On its side, Syria was reportedly trying to sell gold reserves to raise revenue as Western and Arab sanctions targeting its central bank and oil exports begin to bite, diplomats and traders said.
Western sanctions have halved Syria’s foreign exchange reserves from about $17 billion, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said last week.
“Syria is selling its gold at rock bottom prices,” said a Western diplomatic source, declining to say where it was being sold.
A second diplomatic source confirmed the information, adding that Damascus was looking to offload everything it could to raise cash, including currency reserves.
Two gold traders in the United Arab Emirates said the Syrian government had been offering gold at a discount, with one saying it was making offers at about 15 percent below the market price.
The trader said Damascus was selling small volumes of around 20-30 kilos which were easier to offload, with offers being made through private accounts set up with free email providers.
Another trader said deals had not gone through in Dubai because the Emirati authorities were blocking unauthorized trades and few potential buyers were willing to take the risk of these deals.
Syria has not published economic statistics since May 2011, making it impossible to verify gold figures or forex reserves.
Diplomatic sources estimated the sanctions had cut Syria’s oil output by 30 percent, costing Assad’s government $400 million a month in revenue, or $2 billion since November. Prior to EU sanctions, Damascus sold 90 percent of its oil to Europe.