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EU imposes new sanctions on Assad's inner circle amid renewed wave of violence in Syria

(Xinhua)

13:26, March 24, 2012

DAMASCUS, March 23 (Xinhua) -- The European Union's (EU) foreign ministers on Friday imposed sanctions on Syria's first lady Asma al-Assad along with other ten members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's inner circle, as violence continued in several Syrian areas over the weekend.

Besides the first lady, the EU's 13th round of sanctions targeted the president's mother, sister and sister-in-law in addition to eight government ministers and two Syrian companies. The new measures include banning the sanctioned people from visiting the 27-nation bloc, freezing their assets and stopping them from shopping with European firms.

However, the first lady will still be able to visit Britain, as she holds British citizenship.

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton said that the new sanctions aim to "weaken the regime's resources and its ability to conduct its brutal campaign. "

The move to target Asma came apparently after the British Guardian newspaper said recently that it had obtained a cache of alleged private emails that belong to Syria's president, his wife and other members of their inner circle. The alleged emails showed the first lady's busy purchases of luxury goods from London and Paris during the yearlong crisis.

The 36-year-old British-born first lady married Assad in 2000, the same year he took office.

In a further measure, the United Nations Human Rights Council on Friday condemned Syria's violations of human rights and extended the mandate of a UN expert panel tasked with reporting humanitarian situation from the country.

The resolution, tabled by the U.S., EU countries as well dozens of other UN members, was adopted by a vote of 41 in favor, 3 against and 2 abstentions in the Council's 19th session convened in Geneva. The resolution condemned "widespread, systematic and gross violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms perpetrated by the Syrian authorities."

In another UN effort, Kofi Annan, joint special envoy of the United Nations and Arab League to Syria, is scheduled to travel to Moscow and Beijing this weekend for talks on the crisis in Syria, his spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said.

Fawzi told reporters that Annan's team is "currently studying the Syrian responses carefully and negotiations with Damascus continue."

Meanwhile, the United Nations and its humanitarian partners on Friday issued an appeal of 84 million U.S. dollars to help Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Iraq.

The plan, led by the UN refugee agency and involving seven UN agencies, 27 NGOs and host governments, is based on an assumption that humanitarian will be needed to reach some 100,000 people, mainly Syrian refugees and third-country nationals.

Number of refugees from Syria has been increasing since unrest broke out last March. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has registered over 6,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan, 16, 000 in Lebanon, 17,000 in Turkey.

Meanwhile, fierce clashes reportedly erupted Friday between the government forces and armed rebels at the town of Azaz in the northern province of Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reportedly said.

The clashes in Azaz, 8 km from the Turkish borders, left at least three army personnel and one rebel killed, the observatory said, adding that military helicopters were seen hovering over the town.

It also reported that 24 mortar shells slammed into the streets of several neighborhoods in the central city of Homs Friday morning.

The activist network Local Coordination Committees said around 32 people were killed across Syria on Friday, most of them in Homs as ant-government protests erupted across Syria under the title " Damascus, we are coming."

The activists' report could not be independently verified.

Syria's state-run SANA news agency said that a member of Syria' s military engineering units was killed Friday and four others injured when an explosive device, planted by an "armed terrorist group" went off in northern Aleppo province. The explosive were remotely detonated at al-Sfeireh bridge in Aleppo, according to SANA.

Also in Aleppo, the authorities seized a pickup truck carrying three bath cylinder-shaped water tank heaters loaded with a huge amount of explosives in al-Sakhour neighborhood near al-Qaqa' Mosque, said SANA, adding that the explosives were dismantled with no problems reported.

The Syrian government has accused some Arab and Western countries of providing weapons and financial support to the armed groups in Syria. It said in December 2011 that "armed terrorist groups" had killed more than 2,000 army and security personnel during the unrest.

The United Nations said recently that more than 8,000 people have been killed over Syria's yearlong domestic unrest.

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