Europe calls in Syria envoys amid sanctions threat

AP News
Posted: May 11, 2011 8:56 AM
Europe calls in Syria envoys amid sanctions threat

European countries summoned Syrian ambassadors Wednesday to threaten a new round of sanctions that will target the country's leadership if it doesn't halt the repression of protesters, Germany said.

As Europe stepped up the pressure on Damascus, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon demanded full access for humanitarian workers in Syria, which has blocked an international team from entering to make an independent assessment of the country's aid needs.

Syria's ambassador to Berlin was summoned to the Foreign Ministry for Wednesday afternoon as part of "a concerted European action," ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said.

He says European officials will explain to Syrian envoys sanctions that have been imposed over recent days and warn that "a second package that also includes the Syrian leadership" will follow quickly if President Bashar Assad's regime does not immediately change course.

The EU has decided to impose sanctions on 13 Syrian officials, prohibiting them from traveling anywhere in the 27-nation bloc.

The first round of sanctions doesn't target President Bashar Assad himself, but Peschke said a second round would "immediately affect the leadership of the state" and indicated that it would include Assad. He refused to specify what the new sanctions might entail.

Syrian authorities appear determined to crush an uprising which began in the southern city of Daraa in mid-March and quickly spread nationwide.

Assad has dispatched army troops backed by tanks to Homs and other communities across the country, and his security troops have carried out sweeping arrests in an attempt to intimidate would-be protesters and quell dissent.

Peschke said that, to avoid further sanctions, Syria must halt violence against demonstrators and others, and embark on a credible course of reform.

"That is, as far as we can judge, not the case" at present, he added. "Unfortunately, we have to assume that the next sanctions step will follow very quickly."

He did not give a more specific time frame.

In Geneva, U.N. secretary-general Ban urged Assad to allow a U.N. team to enter Daraa.

"I am disappointed that our humanitarian assessment team has not yet been given the access it needs and was promised by the Syrian authorities," Ban told reporters. He said Assad had promised that the team would be allowed into the city.

Ban said the U.N.'s humanitarian agency needs to get on the ground there so it can undertake an impartial review.

But the Syrian army was shelling residential areas in central Syria on Wednesday, a sharp escalation of the government's effort to put down a popular nationwide revolt against Assad's rule, according to activists and witnesses.

Assad has promised reforms and ditched the emergency laws the government has been using for a half-century to detain people, widely viewed as symbolic overtures to appease protesters.

"I urge again President Assad to heed the calls of the people for reform and freedom, and to desist from excessive force and mass arrest of peaceful demonstrators," Ban said.


Melissa Eddy contributed from Berlin and John Heilprin contributed from Geneva.