24th Oct 2016

EU to blacklist Assad's wife, mother and sister

The EU is to add the Syrian leader's wife, mother, sister and sister-in-law to its blacklist at a foreign minister's meeting in Brussels on Friday (23 March).

The new visa ban and asset freeze also covers eight members of President Bashar Assad's government and two oil firms.

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  • Bashar Assad's wife, Asma, in Paris in 2008. Vogue magazine last year called her 'a rose in the desert' (Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)

Opposition groups, such as the Syrian National Council (SNC), want much more.

SNC spokesman, Radwan Ziadeh, told EUobserver that Nato should launch air-strikes against Assad's tanks, enforce a no-fly zone and create humanitarian safe havens. "What is happening [in Syria] is a new Sarajevo, a new Bosnia," he said, referring to Balkan massacres in the 1990s.

There is no chance of that, however.

The military option would rely on Nato member and Syria neighbour Turkey. But Turkey's message to Syria's Sunni Muslim opposition is: get Christians and other minorities, who support Assad out of fear of Sunni rule, on your side first.

There is not even talk of stopping Syrian banks using Belgian-based firm Swift to make international wire transfers.

"This would amount to an economic blockade. It took two years of talks to agree to do it on Iran and there is no indication it will change the regime's behaviour ... When his [Assad's] closest relatives start calling him and saying: 'Look, I can't send my children to school in Switzerland any more. I can't go shopping in Paris any more' - this will put pressure on him to make concessions," an EU diplomat said.

Meanwhile, rewind 30 years to 1982, and what is happening now in the Syrian towns of Homs and Idlib was happening in Hama, where Assad's father's tanks shelled Sunni Muslim rebels and killed at least 10,000 people.

The man in charge of the tanks was Assad's uncle, Rifaat Assad. He is not involved in today's atrocities because he fled Syria in 1984 after a failed coup.

But when British foreign minister William Hague and France's Alain Juppe speak of "concern" for Syria on Friday, some might ask why they are happy to play home to the man known to average Syrians as "the butcher of Hama."

Impunity versus 'concern'

Rifaat divides his time between his mansion off Park Lane in London and his mansion on Avenue Foch in Paris. He looted enough Syrian money to also buy a huge property in Puerto Banus, on Spain's Costa del Sol.

EU diplomats say he has not broken any British or French laws and that he is a "non-story" because he is so "toxic" in Syria that he could never make a political come-back.

But the SNC's Ziadeh said the EU should blacklist him for past crimes to show Syrian people they are serious about setting things straight. An EU official told this website it is legally possible to put him under an asset freeze so that he cannot sell the properties and hide the money when post-Bashar Syria tries to get it back.

Trust in the West is in short supply among Syrians in any case.

For its part, the Amis de la Syrie - a Syrian expat NGO in Belgium - believes EU countries are exploring a scenario in which Rifaat uses old military contacts to organise a ceasefire, dethrone Bashar, and install himself or his son, the London-based Ribal Asaad, in power with Western support.

If Belgian foreign minister Didier Reynders talks about "concern" for Syria on Friday, some might ask him about Albert Frere.

The Belgian noble controls Compagnie Nationale a Portefeuille, which controls Transcor Astra, which controls Swiss-based AOT Trading.

The Swiss government has confirmed that AOT Trading has been selling Russian gasoil to Syria in recent months. Gasoil, which is used for heating, is not under an EU ban. But it can also be used as petrol for tanks.

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