EU Pressures Syria's Assad Regime with New SanctionsBulgaria in EU | February 27, 2012, Monday // 15:22| views
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Uri Rosenthal, French foreign Minister Alain Juppe together prior to an EU foreign affairs council in Brussels, Belgium, 27 February 2012. EPA/BGNES
The European Union has reacted to the escalating violence in Syria by imposing new sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
At a meeting of EU foreign ministers, the Union approved sanctions on Syria's central bank and seven new government ministers as expected. It also signed off on a ban on cargo flights from Syrian airline carriers and on trade in gold, diamonds and some other precious metals with Syria.
"We continue to do what we can to support the Arab League plan and a peaceful transition in Syria rather than the appalling violence that we continue to see,“ UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said as quoted by the WSJ.
The EU has already introduced an oil embargo on Syria and a travel ban and asset freeze on Assad and many of his top government and military officials.
In a statement after a two-hour discussion about Syria, EU foreign ministers called for Syrian authorities to allow humanitarian organizations "full and unimpeded access" to the country and condemned what it called President Assad's "ruthless campaign of repression against the civilian population and its systematic and widespread violation of human rights."
The foreign ministers said they would hold those responsible for the violence "accountable for their actions." French Foreign Minister Alain Jupp? told reporters the international community should "reflect" on what action can be taken against Syrian leaders in the International Courts of Justice.
The EU foreign ministers also warned they would push further sanctions "as long as the repression continues."
But the EU also made it clear that military action was off the table. They said they wouldn't breach an arms embargo on Syria by directly supplying the opposition with arms and that a peacekeeping force could be sent to Syria only once the violence ends.
The ministers recognized the Syrian National Council as a "legitimate representative" of the Syrian people. But they urged opposition forces to work more closely together—setting up a "coordination mechanism" and agreeing to "a set of shared principles for working towards an orderly and peaceful transition."
Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the meeting, Mr. Jupp? said the Syrian National Council could provide leadership to Mr. Assad's opponents but said the opposition must include people from across Syria's ethnic and religious divides—including Christians, Kurds and Mr. Assad's Allawite community.
Last Friday, a "Friends of Syria" contact group of more than 60 nations meeting in Tunis backed an Arab plan calling on President Assad to cede power, and pledged to prepare to deliver emergency humanitarian aid to Syria.
On Sunday, Syrians voted in a referendum on a new constitution as fighting raged in parts of the country and the city of Homs remained under artillery attack.
U.K. Foreign Secretary Hague said that vote had "fooled nobody." "To open polling stations while you continue to open fire on civilians in the country has no credibility in the eyes of the world," he said.
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