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Pressure on Assad

August 19, 2011

The EU leveled more sanctions against Syria, a day after US President Barack Obama called on Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad to step down. The UN is sending a humanitarian mission to Syria.

Protest banner at a Syrian demonstration
The international community is stepping up the pressure on AssadImage: AP

EU diplomats agreed on Friday to expand sanctions against Syrian officials and institutions, and outlined plans for a possible oil embargo. Around 95 percent of Syria's crude exports goes to Europe, including Germany, France and Italy.

EU officials said existing travel and asset bans would also be widened.

This comes a day after the US imposed a raft of sanctions on Syrian oil companies and a freeze on Syrian government assets held under US jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, the United Nations has said it will send a humanitarian mission to Syria on Saturday to assess the situation on the ground, following calls by US and EU leaders for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

The UN mission is to be organized by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and will concentrate on areas where there have been reports of fighting, according to Valerie Amos, who heads the office.

She said Damascus had granted the UN team "full access to where we want to go."

protests in Syria
The protests continue despite the bloody crackdownImage: picture-alliance/dpa

UN resolution

On Friday, Spain joined the chorus of European countries clamouring for UN sanctions. Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez said the resolution should make three primary demands.

"End the violence, open a reform process and thirdly open a new era that leads the Syrian people to a period of freedom, which is what all people aspire to," she told Spanish radio, adding that she did not believe that Assad could be believed when he said he would stop the violence against pro-democracy protesters.

On Friday, at least 20 people were killed by Assad's forces, despite the Syrian leader's pledge to UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Thursday that the crackdown was over.

Domino effect

On Thursday, US President Barack Obama for the first time explicitly called for Assad's ouster, and the leaders of Germany, Britain and France swiftly followed suit, issuing a call for Assad to "face the reality of the complete rejection of his regime by the Syrian people and to step aside in the best interests of Syria and the unity of its people."

UN human rights chief Navi Pillay has said there were indications that the Syrian regime may have committed crimes against humanity in its crackdown on dissidents.

President Assad's UN ambassador accused the West of waging a "humanitarian and diplomatic war" against the government in Damascus.

Author: Sarah Harman (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Editor: Susan Houlton

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