EU ministers approve new sanctions, weigh options for Syria
The European Union on Monday turned up the heat on the Syrian regime with new sanctions on the country's central bank, cargo flights, precious metal trade and seven ministers, DPA reported.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels may also consider a "peacekeeping mision" to the violence-wracked country, Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal told reporters.
"We also try our utmost to see whether we could arrange at a certain moment for a peacekeeping mission to Syria. But peacekeeping does mean that there should be peace," Rosenthal said.
"So the first priority is for the violence in Syria to stop and, going together with that, the message that (President Bashar) al-Assad should step down," he added.
The crackdown on opponents of the Syrian regime has left more than 5,400 people dead, according to United Nations estimates. International condemnation of the violence has done little to persuade al-Assad's regime to change course so far.
A military intervention nevertheless remains out of the question, several of the EU ministers insisted on Monday.
"I see no military option to solve the problems there. We will keep strengthening the sanctions, we'll keep asking the opposition to stand more united, we'll ask for humanitarian aid to get in," Danish Foreign Minister Villy Sovndal said. "We want a peaceful solution."
Luxembourg's Jean Asselborn also ruled out the possibility of funnelling arms to the Syrian opposition, which several ministers complained was not unified enough.
"One of the issues in Syria must be that... all people feel that the future is for all of them, that this is about a united, inclusive country," the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, noted.
Some ministers made a point of dismissing a referendum held over the weekend on a new Syrian constitution, whose results are expected on Monday.
"Yesterday's referendum vote has fooled nobody," British Foreign Minister William Hague said. "To open polling stations (while continuing) to open fire on the civilians of the country has no credibility in the eyes of the world."
The EU's new round of sanctions slaps travel bans and asset freezes on the ministers of health, education, presidential affairs, communications and technology, oil and mineral resources, industry, and transport.
The Syrian Central Bank will also no longer have access to any funds it may hold in the EU, while Syrian-operated flights carrying only cargo will not be allowed to land in the bloc.
EU businesses will additionally be banned from engaging in trades in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian public bodies.