BRUSSELS, EU- Following on similar measures in recent months, the European Union slapped new sanctions on Syria Monday to try to tighten an economic vise around the violent regime of President Bashar al-Assad.
European foreign ministers increased the pressure Monday on Syria's regime to stop its crackdown on opponents, freezing the assets of several Syrian government officials and imposing sanctions on the country's central bank (CBS) . The new sanctions were adopted Monday morning by the foreign ministers of the 27 EU countries, meeting in Brussels, said Maja Kocijancic, an EU spokeswoman.
EU foreign ministers banned the purchase of gold, precious metals and diamonds from the country, and banned Syrian cargo flights from the European Union.
They also agreed to freeze the assets of several Syrian officials, impose sanctions on the country's central bank and halt purchases of gold and gems. Syrian cargo flights are also to be banned from the EU.
The 27-nation union has already enacted sanctions against other senior Syrian leaders and state enterprises.
The names of the Syrian officials sanctioned Monday will be made public Tuesday in the EU's official journal.
Heading into a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday, British Foreign Secretary William Hague expressed the West's continued frustration with Moscow and Beijing for preventing stronger action against Syria at the United Nations.
"Do we have a difference of view with China and in particular with Russia? Yes, we do, and that remains a major blockage in what the international community can do," Hague said. "I hope that China and Russia will see that it has been a mistake to take this position, that it is damaging their own interests in the Middle East, that it is wrong in the eyes of the world."
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said as he left the meeting that he thought the imposition of new sanctions would be effective as part of a broader effort to put pressure on President al-Assad regime.
Alain Juppé said "It will not be enough, of course, but it is a new step,".
The EU foreign ministers had also recognised the Syrian National Council, one of two main opposition groups, as one legitimate party to talk with, he added. But he acknowledged there were other elements opposed to President al-Assad's rule and said it was important to push the opposition to become more organised.
Juppé said that humanitarian access to those in need in Syria was "an absolute priority".
So far the EU sanctions have had little effect on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Activist groups estimate nearly 7,500 people have died in 11 months of unrest. The effects have yet to be seen, but EU leaders say that they are trying to apply as much diplomatic and economic pressure as they can against the Assad regime.
The EU had previously imposed several rounds of sanctions on Syria, freezing the assets of 100 people and 38 organisations, and trying to cut the country's supply of equipment for its oil and gas sectors.
The EU officials are also expected to discuss Egypt's transition to democracy, and to urge a complete transfer of power to civilian rule as soon as possible, in addition to other issues for Africa.