Even as the European Union slapped sanctions on the mother, sister
and influential wife of President Bashar Assad and the UN-Arab
League peace envoy Kofi Annan is on way to Russia and China, Syrian government forces
continue to pound several neighbourhoods in the central city of Homs,
Activists on Saturday morning reported heavy shelling on Homs'
Khalidiyah neighbourhood and the city’s old neighbourhoods in an
attempt by the government to regain control of
In al-Qusair town of Homs province, an activist network said the
government’s military campaign was continuing for a fourth day.
The Syrian Revolution General Commission said the shelling had
left several homes ablaze and thick smoke filled the sky.
Security forces also pressed ahead with a siege of Hama which they
began two weeks ago, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human
At least 33 people were reportedly killed in violence nationwide
on Friday, a day which saw mass anti-government demonstrations
across the country.
Kofi Annan on Peace Mission
The latest reports of violence came as Annan prepared to meet
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Lavrov, the Russian
foreign minister, on Sunday before flying to China.
Both of the UN Security Council permanent members have used their
veto rights to block efforts to condemn Syrian President Bashar
Annan, the former UN chief, will be carrying with him Assad's
answer to a peace plan under which Syria could begin a "political
transition" to a representative government, with no specifically
defined role for Assad.
Moscow and Beijing backed a non-binding Security Council statement
on Wednesday in support of the initiative only after making sure
it contained no implicit threat of further action should Assad
fail to comply.
The statement urged the Syrian government to implement "fully and
immediately" Annan's peace plan.
The initiative calls for Assad to withdraw troops and heavy
weapons from protest hubs, a daily two-hour humanitarian
ceasefire, access to all areas affected by the fighting and a
UN-supervised halt to all clashes.
In Geneva on Friday, a UN-appointed panel of human rights experts
said it had new information on the defections of four brigadier
generals from Syria and on doctors ordered to make patients
unconscious during hospital visits by Arab League monitors.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria told
a news conference on Friday it has also received information that
unrest outside known areas, including in the country's
second-largest city, Aleppo, was becoming significant.
Commission member Yakin Erturk, a former UN investigator on
violence against women, revealed that several significant military
figures had recently deserted Assad's government.
"Since our second report, four brigadier generals have defected.
And of course, others before. But the reason why this is important
is because of indicating that high level defections are
increasing," she said.
Adding to pressure on the government, the EU on Friday agreed to
sanction Assad's British-born wife Asma, along with his mother,
sister and sister-in-law.
The trio were among 12 Syrians added to a list of figures already
hit with EU travel bans and asset freezes, diplomats said. Foreign
ministers in Brussels also barred European firms from trading with
two Syrian oil companies.
“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,” said Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal.
Diplomats in Brussels said EU foreign ministers had agreed an
assets freeze and travel ban on the four women and eight other
members of Assad's entourage.
Asma al-Assad, whose parents live in Britain where she grew up,
cannot be barred entry to the country, British Foreign Secretary
William Hague said.
"But given that we are imposing an asset freeze on all of these
individuals and a travel ban on other members of the same family
and the regime, we are not expecting Mrs Assad to try to travel to
the United Kingdom at the moment."
Assad himself was targeted last May 10, along with his younger
brother Maher and four cousins.
In a separate development, Janet Napolitano, the US homeland
security department secretary, announced that Syrians in the
United States would be allowed to stay beyond their visas and
avoid the risk of returning to their violence-torn country.
"Conditions in Syria have worsened to the point where Syrian
nationals already in the United States would face serious threats
to their personal safety if they were to return to their home
country," Napolitano said.