BRUSSELS: European Union states decided on Friday to ban the wife, mother and sister of Syrian President Bashar Assad from traveling in the EU, aiming to pressure him into ending a crackdown on popular unrest and restrict his family's luxury lifestyle.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels also expanded the list of people facing asset freezes and bans on travel to the EU to several other Syrians, and barred European companies from doing business with two Syrian oil companies, EU officials said.
The decisions, which come into force on Saturday, build on 12 previous rounds of sanctions aimed at isolating Assad, including an arms embargo and a ban on importing Syrian oil to the EU.
"With this new listing we are striking at the heart of the Assad clan, sending out a loud and clear message to Mr. Assad: he should step down," Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said on the sidelines of the EU ministers' meeting in Brussels.
A London-born former investment banker working in mergers and acquisitions in the healthcare sector, Assad's wife Asma once cultivated the image of a woman inspired by Western values.
But since the uprising against her husband started, she has become a hate figure for many Syrians, standing by him during a year-long uprising against Assad. She appears to have continued a life of luxury shopping and entertainment, while according to the U.N. at least 8,000 people have died in the violence.
Emails she exchanged with her husband obtained by Britain's Guardian newspaper indicated they were buying pop music and other items on the internet during the bloodshed.
Assad has been the target of sanctions since May last year, but these have so far had little impact on his policies.
Violence has intensified in Syria in recent weeks as pro-government forces bombard rebel towns and villages, looking to sweep their lightly armed opponents out of their strongholds.
The international community has struggled to formulate a joint approach in the face of opposition from Russia and China to U.N. Security Council resolutions proposed by the West.
A list of people targeted by the latest EU sanctions is scheduled to be made public on Saturday.