Europe expands sanctions on Syria amid fresh protests

The EU sanctioned four more companies and seven new individuals, including three members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, and condemned Syria's 'shocking' use of violence.

Murad Sezer/Reuters
Demonstrators are reflected on the sunglasses of a fellow demonstrator during a protest against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad at the courtyard of Fatih mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, on Friday, June 24.

The European Union expanded sanctions against the Syrian government today, even as reports emerged that regime forces opened fire on fresh protests that erupted after Friday prayers.

EU leaders meeting at a summit in Brussels announced travel bans and the freezing of assets for seven new individuals, bringing the total number of people targeted to 30.

But Europe's ability to squeeze Syria through sanctions is limited, says Daniel Korski, senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Affairs in London.

"Most of Syria’s main trade partners are outside the EU – countries like Turkey, Russia, China, Korea, and Norway. That has made Syria more immune to sanctions," says Mr. Korski, who notes that Europe's indecision about whether to give Assad a chance to redeem himself has also weakened its leverage. "So soft sanctions haven’t worked and strong sanctions are outside the EU’s arsenal.”

Who was sanctioned

Two of the seven individuals targeted under the expanded sanctions are cousins of President Bashar al-Assad. Three others are members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards who are accused of having supported Syria’s regime in its violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators.

Two other Syrians, along with four Syrian companies that the EU says are financing the Assad family, were also put under sanctions.

Officials at the Brussels meeting also drafted a resolution to present to the United Nations that condemns the “unacceptable and shocking violence the Syrian regime continues to apply on its own people.” So far European efforts to pass such a resolution have failed because of the opposition of Russia, one of five veto-wielding members on the Security Council.

Fresh protests in Damascus and elsewhere today

In Syria, thousands of people are reported to have demonstrated against the government today. According to local activists, protests took place in the Damascus suburb of Irbin, in the central cities of Homs and Hama, in Deraa in the south, and in Deir al-Zour in the east.

The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Syria said that at least three people had been killed by security forces in Damascus and another two demonstrators killed in Homs. In the Damascus suburbs of Duma and Harasta, the Syrian authorities cut Internet and mobile phone connections.

Meanwhile the Syrian military's advance in the north has caused many in makeshift camps to cross the Syria-Turkey border. More than 1,500 people fled to Turkey on Thursday, according to the Turkish news agency Anadolu. Almost 12,000 Syrians have crossed the border since the beginning of the uprising. Turkey moved additional troops to the region, and Turkish and Syrian soldiers are now facing each other within a few hundred meters.

“This is a regime that now believes that it battles for its very survival,” says Korski. “And it is willing to take all measures, including massacre its own citizens. So it seems on the whole, much as Slobodan Milosevic’s Serbia at one point, unlikely to be swayed by even the hardships that sanctions bring.”

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