25th Aug 2019

EU sanctions on Syria enter into force

  • Razor wire - one of the banned items on the EU list (Photo: Jacksoncam)

Thirteen members of the Syrian leader's inner circle are as of Tuesday (10 May) forbidden from entering EU countries and risk having their accounts frozen if any are discovered in European banks.

The sanctions legally entered into force via their publication in the EU's Official Journal, with senior EU diplomats to meet in Brussels later in the day to discuss adding President Bashar al-Assad's name to the roll-call if mass killings and detentions continue.

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The four top men on the list-of-13 are Maher al-Assad, Hafez Makhlouf, Rami Makhlouf and Ali Mamlouk.

The EU journal describes Maher al-Assad, the president's 43-year-old younger brother and the commander of an elite military division, as the "principal overseer of violence against demonstrators." He is said to be psychologically unstable and to have shot a general, Assef Shawqat, in the stomach in 1999 in a personal dispute.

Rami Makhlouf, a 41-year-old billionaire tycoon and the president's cousin, is the only man on the list with no formal connection to security services. The EU journal says he "bankrolls the regime allowing violence."

Ali Mamlouk, 65, is not related to the al-Assads, but is the country's top spymaster and behind-the-scenes diplomat.

Mamlouk in late 2010 held high-level meetings in London and Paris to set-up joint training programmes for secret service officers. A leaked US diplomatic cable from February last year saw him offer to help Washington hunt terrorists in return for exports of aviation equipment and the sale of a luxury jet for the Syrian leader.

Hafez Makhlouf, Mamlouk's de facto number two man in the intelligence services, is co-ordinating the crackdown in Damascus and is said by the EU journal to be "close to Maher al-Assad."

The other nine include two more al-Assad family members, the interior minister, junior intelligence chiefs and regional security commanders. One of the men, Rustum Ghazali, was in charge of Syrian intelligence in Beirut when the pro-Western Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri was assassinated in 2005.

The EU sanctions also include an arms embargo and a ban on sales of equipment which can be used in internal repression.

The arms ban is nominal because Syria gets most of its guns from non-EU suppliers. Germany and Italy were the top EU arms exporters in 2009, but the total sales amounted to less than €4 million.

The EU list of repressive equipment includes items such as razor wire, water cannons, anti-riot body armour and bayonets.

Meanwhile, UK press is reporting on Tuesday that President al-Assad's wife, Asma, a designer-label-loving socialite born and educated in Britain, has left Syria with the couple's three young children and is living in London.

The British daily The Telegraph cited a senior Arabic diplomat as saying: "Clearly her presence could cause huge embarrassment to the British, so none of this has been made public."

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