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Syria hit with new sanctions: Will this weaken Assad?

The Arab League hit Syria with sanctions Sunday. The new sanctions include a travel ban on Syrian officials and a freeze on Syria government assets.

By Yasmine SalehReuters / November 27, 2011

A child is lifted next to a banner during a demonstration against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Deir Balaba near Homs, Syria, Nov. 27, 2011. The banner reads, "Never go back".

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The Arab League approved economic sanctions on Syria on Sunday to try to force Damascus to halt an eight-month crackdown on protests against President Bashar al-Assad that Qatar said may prompt international intervention.

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Anti-Assad activists said there was no respite from the crackdown and security forces had killed at least 24 civilians, many in a town north of Damascus that has become a focus for protests demanding Assad's removal. Others were killed in raids on towns in the province of Homs.

Nineteen of the League's 22 members approved the decision to immediately enforce the sanctions, hailed by Britain as unprecedented. They include a travel ban on top Syrian officials and a freeze on assets related to Assad's government.

"The indications are not positive ... the sanctions are still economic but if there is no movement on the part of Syria then we have a responsibility as human beings to stop the killings," Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar's prime minister and foreign minister, told reporters.

"Power is not worth anything when a ruler kills his people," he said, adding that the sanctions were also aimed at halting dealings with Syria's central bank and investment in Syria.

Sheikh Hamad said Arab nations wanted to avoid a repeat of what happened in Libya, where a U.N. Security Council resolution led to NATO air strikes. He warned other Arab states that the West could intervene if it felt the league was not "serious."
"All the work that we are doing is to avoid this interference," he said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the "unprecedented decision to impose sanctions demonstrates that the regime's repeated failure to deliver on its promises will not be ignored and that those who perpetrate these appalling abuses will be held to account."

Hague said Britain hoped the move would help break what he called United Nations silence "on the ongoing brutality taking place in Syria" after Russia and China thwarted Western efforts to pass a U.N. Security Council resolution on Syria.

Damascus, where the Assad family has ruled for 41 years, says regional powers helped incite the violence, which it blames on armed groups targeting civilians and its security forces.

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The president of the Union of Arab Banks, a division of the Arab League, expected the sanctions to hit Syria's central bank, which he said has "big deposits" in the region, especially the Gulf.

"Once individual countries that have voted for the sanctions issue instructions, Syrian deposits will be frozen, which will affect the financial resources of the Syrian government," Adnan Youssef told Arabiya television.

Arab ministers were spurred to action by worsening violence in Syria and by the Assad government's failure to meet a deadline to let in Arab monitors and take other steps to end its crackdown on the uprising.

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