EU Hones In On New Syria Sanctions
02/23/2012| 07:16am US/Eastern
BRUSSELS -- European Union governments are set to push ahead with sanctions on Syria's central bank next week and impose a ban on air cargo flights into the EU and sales of gold and other precious metals, European diplomats confirmed Thursday.
The fresh round of sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime comes amid intensifying violence in the country which is facing growing regional and international criticism.
EU foreign ministers meet in Brussels on Monday and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton had already warned the EU would tighten its already extensive sanctions regime.
Diplomats said there was agreement on a broad freeze on Syria's central bank although, as happened with last month's EU sanctions on Iran's central bank, there would likely be a significant exemption on transactions for legitimate trade.
Diplomats said there was also agreement on a ban on air cargo flights by Syrian airlines to and from the EU. Germany had pushed a ban on all flights.
The EU is also set to ban the export or import of gold and other precious metals, although a proposed ban on Syrian phosphate exports looks unlikely to go ahead, diplomats said.
One senior EU source said the regional bloc would also add seven more Syrian ministers to its asset freeze and travel ban list.
The EU is also concerned about the humanitarian situation in Syria, and is keen to ensure that aid can be delivered, the senior official explained. He said one idea being floated, mainly by humanitarian organizations, is the possibility of a daily ceasefire of several hours that would allow the delivery of some aid.
The EU has already imposed stringent sanctions on the Assad regime, agreeing a crude oil embargo last year, tight restrictions on investments in Syria's energy sector and including Assad and many of his top officials, family members and business supporters on the sanctions list.
However, despite the escalating violence and death toll, EU foreign ministers have repeatedly ruled out any repeat of the military action many member states joined against former Libyan leader Col. Moammar Gadhafi.
The sanctions move will come after the EU joins a meeting of the Friends of Syria in Tunis.
The group--including foreign ministers from the U.S., France, U.K., and European Union--are set to meet for the first time on Friday. It was proposed after Russia and China this month vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution calling for President Assad to step aside.
-By Alessandro Torello and Laurence Norman, Dow Jones Newswires; +32 (0)2 741 1481; firstname.lastname@example.org