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EU tightens sanctions on Syria

By IANS/RIA Novosti,

Moscow : The 27-member European Union (EU) Monday approved a new set of sanctions against Syria, including a tougher arms embargo, in response to the escalating violence in the country.

During a meeting in Brussels, foreign ministers of the member states agreed to authorise searches of airplanes and ships in EU territorial waters and airspace if they are suspected of carrying arms and other equipment to Syria that could be used by Damascus to crack down on the opposition.

The measure reinforces an EU ban on arms deliveries to Syria imposed in May last year.

Under the agreement, any banned items must be seized, according to an unidentified European official quoted by the New York Times.

The EU ministers also decided to extend the existing EU blacklist of 129 people and 49 companies with links to the Syrian government.

According to various media reports, the ministers agreed to ban another 26 or 29 Syrian officials from travelling to the EU and freeze their European assets. Three more Syrian companies have been blacklisted.

The new measures constituted the 17th round of EU sanctions imposed on Syria since the beginning of an uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in March 2011.

“I am deeply concerned at the escalating violence and its tragic consequences for the Syrian population,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement.

“The EU has warned against a further militarization of the conflict. Today, we take practical steps toward limiting the supplies that fuel the fighting,” she said.

The new sanctions came as Syrian government troops continue a large-scale offensive to force rebels out of Damascus and the northern city of Aleppo.

Dozens of people were reported killed and thousands have fled their homes in Syria over the past few days.

Up to 17,000 people have been killed in clashes between Assad’s troops and opposition fighters since the beginning of the conflict 17 months ago, according to UN estimates based on accounts by Syrian activists.

The UN Refugee Agency said the number of Syrian refugees it has registered or assisted in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey has almost tripled since April to 112,000.