16th Jul 2019

Syrian leader kept off EU sanctions list

  • Al-Assad poster in Damascus - the crackdown has already claimed at least 600 lives (Photo: Travel Aficionado)

EU countries have agreed to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on 13 high-level Syrian regime members. Tycoon Rami Makhlouf is on the list, but President Bashar al-Assad is off the hook for now.

The sanctions package also includes an embargo on sales of weapons and equipment which could be used for internal repression and is due to legally enter into force on 10 May.

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The list of 13 is designed to target people responsible for the slaughter of several hundred protesters in recent weeks, while keeping open diplomatic channels and leaving President al-Assad an incentive to stop the killing.

The country's defence minister, Ali Habib Mahmud, and its foreign minister, Waled al-Muallim, were also kept out of the register.

But Rami Makhlouf is in. The 41-year-old is President al-Assad's cousin and childhood friend. He controls up to 60 percent of Syria's economy via holdings in the telecoms, oil, construction, banking and retail sectors and is widely described as the al-Assad "family banker."

An internal document drawn up by EU ambassadors in Brussels on Friday (6 May) says diplomats will next week look into adding more names as well as commercial entities to the list and "in particular to give consideration to the highest levels of [Syrian] leadership."

The promise to keep the president in the crosshairs comes after French foreign minister Alain Juppe earlier said "France wants al-Assad" on the list, but did not get his way.

A EU diplomatic source noted that if Paris had stuck to its position, the sanctions decision might have had to wait until a foreign ministers' debate due at the end of May.

The contact noted "the chance is very small" that the preliminary set of sanctions will make al-Assad change track.

Another EU diplomatic contact told this website that Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Spain were the main opponents of the French line. "The British supported France but they did not really push for it," he added.

The latest news coming out of Syria on Friday afternoon is that al-Assad forces killed seven people in the city of Homs but that some soldiers opened fire on secret service officers in order to protect civilians.

A report published by the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights and the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies on Wednesday said the past 10 days of violence in the southern town of Daraa amount to a "massacre."

The paper says: "Snipers have been stationed on the rooftops of high buildings and are targeting any moving persons, and units ... have been using anti-aircraft machine guns to target densely populated neighbourhoods."

Out of a batch of of 81 dead bodies brought to the Tishreen Military Hospital in Damascus in recent days "most of them [had been] killed by a gunshot bullet to the back. It is strongly suspected that these soldiers have been killed for their refusal to shoot civilians."

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