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EU Plans Sanctions As 'Friends Of Syria' Gather In Tunis

February 24, 2012

European Union diplomats have named seven Syrian ministers to be targeted with new EU sanctions over the Syrian government's deadly crackdown on dissent.

The diplomats say travel bans and asset freezes will be imposed on the ministers of health, education, presidential affairs, communications and technology, industry, oil and mineral resources, and transport.

EU foreign ministers are expected on February 27 to approve sanctions that also target the central bank, cargo flights, and trade in gold, diamonds, and precious metals.

Details of the planned EU sanctions were revealed as senior officials from more than 60 Western and Arab countries gathered in Tunisia for the so-called "Friends of Syria" conference on February 24.

Russia and China are refusing to attend the gathering of foreign ministers -- highlighting the difficulty in building an international consensus on the Syrian crisis.

Moscow and Beijing also have frustrated efforts to rein in Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime by vetoing UN Security Council resolutions and providing military supplies to Syrian government forces

Reports suggest those who attend the Tunis conference will issue Assad an ultimatum, calling for him to implement an immediate cease-fire to allow in relief supplies for civilians in besieged cities like Homs or face as yet unspecified consequences.

The Tunis conference also expected to call for recognition of the opposition Syrian National Council as the legitimate representative of Syria.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the conference would look for "concrete progress on three fronts" -- providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on Assad's regime, and preparing for a democratic transition in Syria.

"[In Tunis] we will be discussing a range of options from tightening sanctions to increasing humanitarian relief to helping the opposition, which will be represented in Tunis, in its efforts to represent all Syrians," Clinton said.

Clinton said Washington hoped to see new pledges of emergency assistance for "Syrians caught in Assad's stranglehold" along with international coordination and diplomatic pressure on Damascus to allow assistance "to get to those who need it most."

Peacekeeping Plans

Tunisia reportedly plans to propose a solution to Syria's 11-month crisis that includes the deployment of a peacekeeping force and the removal of Assad.

Clinton predicted the Syrian uprising will intensify and opposition fighters will find weapons to defend themselves against government forces.

"There will be increasingly capable opposition forces. They will -- from somewhere, somehow -- find the means to defend themselves as well as begin offensive measures. And the pressure will build on countries like Russia and China because world opinion is not going to stand idly by," Clinton said.

But Clinton and other Western ministers who plan to attend the conference have ruled out any overt, direct lethal military aid to Assad's opponents.

Aleksei Pushkov, a Russian lawmaker, said on February 24 after meeting with Assad that arming the Syrian opposition would fuel civil war.

On the eve of the Tunis conference, the UN and Arab League appointed former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan as their special envoy to Syria.

Annan on February 24 urged all sides in Syria to cooperate with his mission in order to "help bring an end to the violence and human rights abuses, and promote a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis."

In Syria on February 24, government forces resumed shelling in the opposition stronghold of Homs for the 21st consecutive day of their assault on the city. Activists say hundreds of civilians have been killed in the onslaught.

The Syrian government has barred foreign media from operating freely in the country, making it difficult to independently confirm death tolls in the conflict.

With Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP reporting


Copyright (c) 2012. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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