Bashar Assad's wife,other relatives sanctioned by EU
BRUSSELS (AP) — EU foreign ministers have slapped sanctions on the wife and other close relatives of Syrian President Bashar Assad, freezing their assets and banning them from traveling to the EU in a continuing attempt to stop the violent crackdown on opposition, officials said Friday.
Also Friday, the United Nations said the joint U.N.-Arab League envoy, Kofi Annan, would travel to Russia and China for more talks aimed at peacefully resolving the crisis in Syria.
The U.N. estimates that more than 8,000 people have been killed since an uprising began in Syria a year ago.
Four members of the Assad family and eight government ministers have been targeted by the EU — the blocs 13th round of sanctions so far against the Syrian regime — the officials said. Three officials spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss a decision that will be announced later Friday following the foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels.
Asma Assad, 36, the president's wife, was born in London and has British citizenship, and an EU official said that likely meant she could not be banned from travel to the U.K.
Meanwhile, Annan and two aides will go to Moscow and Beijing to press the case for his six-point plan, his spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said. Western countries have pushed for U.N. Security Council action, but Russia and China have twice vetoed resolutions criticizing Assad's regime.
"Negotiations are at a very delicate stage. He's not going to mediate through the media," Fawzi said. "The crisis on the ground is severe. We have to make progress on the ground soon. Every minute counts."
Fawzi told reporters Friday that Annan's team is "currently studying the Syrian responses carefully and negotiations with Damascus continue."
On Wednesday, the U.N.'s Security Council issued a nonbinding statement calling for a cease-fire and endorsing Annan's plan, which includes continued talks and a daily two-hour halt in the fighting to provide aid.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague, speaking in Brussels, where the EU foreign ministers are meeting, said Friday it was very important to increase pressure on the Syrian regime.
"Their behavior continues to be murdering and totally unacceptable in the eyes of the world," he said on his way into the meeting.
Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger said the sanctions should target "the family of Assad — his wife and his closest relatives. It is necessary."
Last week, Britain's The Guardian newspaper released thousands of emails purportedly from Bashar Assad's private account. They showed him taking advice from Iran on how to handle the uprising, joking about his promises of reform and bypassing U.S. sanctions to shop on iTunes.