The UN Human Rights Council has endorsed a US call for an investigative mission into the bloodshed in Syria by voting for a resolution that also condemned a violent government crackdown in the country.
The resolution, approved on Friday, "unequivocally condemns the use of lethal violence against peaceful protesters by the Syrian authorities... and urges the Syrian government to immediately put an end to all human rights violations".
It also "requests the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to urgently dispatch a mission to the Syrian Arab Republic to investigate all alleged violations of international human rights law," according to the text released by the United Nations.
Eileen Donahoe, the US human rights ambassador, said that the fact-finding mission would look into violations committed by Syrian forces.
"The international community strongly condemns the behaviour demonstrated by the Syrian authorities with
respect to peaceful protesters in their own country," Donahoe said.
"Opening live fire, sending in snipers and tanks to quell demonstrations is unacceptable."
Although the western resolution was watered down, the vote managed to rally crucial African and Latin American support to overcome Russia and China's powerful opposition to international condemnation of Syria.
Several Arab nations including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar, also abstained or were absent when the vote was called, despite Syria's warnings that the resolution "sent the wrong message" to violent protesters.
Twenty-six countries voted for the text, including some African and Latin American nations that had voiced qualms during the special session on Syria, while nine voted against.
The UN's condemnation of the violence in Syria comes as the United States announced sanctions against Syria's main intelligence agency and two relatives of Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, in response to his government's crackdown on protests.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Friday demanded that Syria's ruler immediately cease violence and hailed a UN Human Rights Council decision to send investigators as precedent setting.
Clinton, speaking after a meeting with visiting Japanese Foreign Minister Takeaki Matsumoto, renewed her call for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "respond to the legitimate aspirations" of his country's people.
"We continue to condemn in the strongest possible terms the absolutely deplorable actions that the Syrian government is taking against its own people. The violence must end immediately," she told reporters.
One official told the Reuters news agency that Mahir al-Assad, Bashar's brother, and Atif Najib, one of his cousins, were among the five targets of US sanctions related to alleged human rights violations.
The source said Mahir al-Assad is a brigade commander in the Syrian Army's 4th Armored Division that has played a key role in Deraa, where protesters have been killed by security forces.
Najib is described as a former head of the Political Security Directorate for Deraa.
Al Jazeera's Patty Culhane said the announcement had been expected for days.
"These sanctions were expected for days, but even the White House does not think it will make such an impact; they are hoping the European Union will follow with similar actions."
Meanwhile, European Union member states reached a preliminary agreement to impose an arms
embargo on Syria and consider other restrictive measures, diplomats said.
At a meeting in Brussels, ambassadors of EU governments gave a preliminary green light to the arms embargo, which will have to be formalised in the coming days.
They also asked EU experts to prepare plans for possible travel bans and asset freezes that could be imposed on the Syrian leadership.
The new US sanctions also target the General Intelligence Directorate and its director, Ali Mamluk.
The spy agency is accused by US officials of repressing dissent and monitoring individual citizens, and of involvement in the killing of protesters in Deraa.
The fifth target is Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - or Quds Force - which is already under US sanctions for supporting militant groups around the world.
The Quds Force is a branch of the Iranian government's principal security agency which operates outside Iran and has in the past been accused by US officials of interfering extensively in political and insurgent activities in Iraq.
A source familiar with the new sanctions said the Quds Force is accused by the Obama administration of being the conduit for support Iran has provided to Syrian authorities in their crackdown on protesters.