EU slaps sanctions on Syrian officials

Prez Assad`s brother heads a list of 13 officials subjected to EU sanctions.

Brussels: The younger brother of President Bashar al-Assad heads a list Tuesday of 13 Syrian officials subjected to European Union sanctions for their roles in violence against protestors.

Maher al-Assad, 43, was described as "strongman" of the Republican Guard and the "principal overseer of violence against demonstrators" on the list published in the EU`s Official Journal.

He was joined by the head of the intelligence service, General Ali Mamluk, 65, and the new Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim al-Shaar, who were also blacklisted for being "involved in violence against demonstrators."

The Syrian president was not hit by sanctions himself due to divisions within the EU, diplomats said.

The names of the officials hit by visa bans and assets freezes were published after the EU formally adopted the sanctions on Monday to punish the regime for a crackdown that rights groups say has left hundreds dead.

The 27-nation bloc also imposed an arms embargo and ban on equipment that can be used for internal repression.

The sanctions aimed to bring about an immediate change of policy by the Syrian leadership, an end to violence and the swift introduction of "genuine and comprehensive political reform," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Monday.

"Failing that, the EU will consider extending the restrictive measures in light of the developments, including at the highest level of leadership."

The other officials on the sanctions list include the head of political security, Mohammed Dib Zeitoun, the chief of military intelligence, Abd Al-Fatah Qudsiyah, and the air force intelligence chief, Jamil Hassan.

The EU also sanctioned two men considered close to Maher al-Assad: Colonel Hafez Makhluf, who heads an intelligence unit, and Rami Makhluf, a Syrian businessman accused of bankrolling the regime therefore "allowing violence against demonstrators."

The former head of political security in the southern protest city of Daraa, Atef Najib, was on the EU list as well as the current head of political security in the coastal city of Banias, Amjad Al-Abbas.

In Banias on Monday, security forces rounded up thousands of men as they went house to house in a bid to crush an anti-regime protest movement.

Rustum Ghazali, head of the Damascus countryside branch of military intelligence, was listed for his role in "the repression against the civilian population."

The list is rounded out by two members of the Shabiha militia and the president`s clan involved in the repression, Fawwaz al-Assad and Mundir al-Assad.

The EU urged Assad on Monday to choose the path of reform and national inclusive dialogue and avoid further bloodshed.

EU foreign ministers will consider the situation in Syria at a meeting later this month, Ashton said.

At talks in Brussels on Syria last week, EU nations were divided on whether to directly target Assad and how strongly to sanction his regime.

Britain, France and Germany favoured a swift and clear message while smaller states -- notably Cyprus, Portugal and Greece -- were reticent over targeting Assad.

Estonia for its part has been concerned for seven of its nationals kidnapped in Syria`s neighbour Lebanon.

Rights groups say more than 600 people have been killed and 8,000 jailed or gone missing in the eight-week crackdown on protesters.

Bureau Report