Emails reportedly leaked by opposition activist give rare insight into Syria’s ruling family facing an uprising.
European Union states have imposed sanctions on Asma al-Assad, the wife of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, as officials seek to increase pressure on Damascus to end its violent assault on anti-government strongholds.
Foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Friday also imposed asset freezes and bans on travel to the EU on several other family members including the Syrian leader’s mother, and banned European companies from doing business with two additional Syrian entities, EU officials said.
A full list of sanctions targets will be made public on Saturday when the decision comes into force. EU diplomats said
the list included the Syrian president’s wife Asma and family.
“She is on the list. It’s the whole clan,” one EU diplomat said.
Asma al-Assad, a former investment banker, has become a recent focus of media attention following publication of a purported trove of private emails between her and her husband, obtained by UK-based Guardian newspaper, which appeared to show them shopping for pop music and luxury items while Syria descended into bloodshed.
The Syrian first lady is a British national and in London officials said an EU travel ban could not prevent her from entering Britain.
“British citizens subject to EU travel bans cannot be refused entry to the UK,” a UK Border Agency spokesperson said.
The ban would stop her from travelling to the other 26 EU nations, an EU diplomat said.
The EU had already responded to Assad’s crackdown on the uprising with a broad range of sanctions, which include a ban on Syrian oil imports to Europe and measures against the the country’s central bank and other companies and state institutions.
Assad himself has been a target since May last year, although violence in the country has continued to escalate, with Syrian forces bombarding towns and cities held by lightly armed anti-government forces.
Activists reported that more than 40 people died across the country on Thursday, mainly in the provinces of Idlib and Homs.
In Idlib’s northern town of Sarmeen, 10 civilians, including three children and two women, died when their small bus was shot up as they tried to flee to Turkey, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory, which depends on a network of local contacts for its information, said it was not clear who was behind the killings. Other activists blamed the Syrian army, which has been trying to stamp out opposition fighters in the area.
In Homs, the Syrian Revolution General Commission activist network said government forces continued their military assault on al-Khaldiyeh district and the neighbourhoods of Old Homs.
Activists also reported heavy bombardment by government forces in al-Qusair, a town close to the Lebanese border.
The continuing violence appeared to defy a UN Security Council statement, adopted on Wednesday, urging Assad and the opposition to implement “fully and immediately” a peace plan drawn up by joint UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan.
Annan is expected to travel to Moscow and Beijing this weekend to discuss the crisis in Syria, his spokesperson said.
The Syrian National Council, one of the main opposition blocs, said the latest UN statement would simply give the government more time to continue killing its own people.
Annan’s plan calls for those detained during the government crackdown on protests to be released, for restrictions on the freedom of movement of foreign journalists and aid agencies to be removed, and for a “daily two-hour humanitarian pause” in the fighting.
However, Valerie Amos, the UN humanitarian chief, complained on Thursday that aid agencies had “limited access” to needy people in Syrian towns.
“The situation in Syria continues to worsen with fighting and violence ongoing in cities around the country, including in Damascus,” Amos said in a statement. “I remain extremely concerned for the people who are caught up in this,” she said.