Wife of Syria’s president is banned from EU

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The UK-born wife of Syria’s leader has been added to an EU list of undesirables banned from travel to Europe.

Europe’s Foreign Ministers put Asma al-Assad, 36, married to President Bashar al-Assad, on a register of more than 100 members of the ruling regime which already includes her husband.

As well as a European travel ban, they all face the freezing of their financial assets held in Europe.

As the president’s wife was born in the EU, confusion remained after the decision about whether she could legally be denied access to the UK,

The decision to add Mrs Assad, and about a dozen others to the existing list of those facing sanctions, was nodded through at talks in Brussels attended by Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Sanctions are being stepped up in the face of continuing government repression of popular opposition, with daily additions to the tally of deaths during the bombardment of anti-government strongholds in the country.

As well as the travel visa and asset bans on individuals associated with the regime, EU sanctions against Syria include an arms embargo, and a ban on exports of oil and gas equipment to Syria.

The latest round of measures came in late February when the EU tightened the economic noose against President Assad’s government, freezing the assets of the Central Bank of Syria and restricting the Syrian regime’s access to the gold and precious metals market.

Yesterday’s measures – the 13th round of EU sanctions against Syria – reflect fury at Mrs Assad’s declaration in a letter to The Times earlier this year that her husband remained the right man to run Syria.

Since then the previously low-profile presidential wife, originally from west London, has been spotlighted as continuing to enjoy the high life despite the assault on entire communities which has resulted in thousands of deaths.

And the violence was continuing yesterday, with Syrian government forces firing machine guns and mortars in fierce clashes with army defectors in a town near the Turkish border.

Unicef meanwhile said Friday that at least 500 Syrian children have been killed in the violence so far, while hundreds more have been injured, put in detention or abused. The U.N. children’s agency said schools have closed and health centers have shut down or become too dangerous for families to reach.

The UN condemnation and the EU sanctions follow a Thursday call by one of Damascus’ most steadfast allies, Russia, for Assad to pull his troops out of Syrian cities.

The regime however is pressing on with several offensives throughout the country, including in northern areas near the rebels’ main supply bases in Turkey.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the clashes in the town of Azaz in the northern province of Aleppo have left at least three soldiers and one defector dead. The Observatory, which has a network of activists around Syria, said military helicopters were seen flying over the town, five miles from the Turkish border.

The Local Coordination Committees, another activist group, said troops were shelling residential areas in Azaz with heavy machine gun fire and mortar rounds.

The Observatory also reported that 24 mortar rounds fell Friday morning in several neighborhoods in the central city of Homs — Bab Dreib, Safsaf and Warsheh. It said two people were killed in Safsaf.

Homs has been the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in the uprising. Government forces crushed a rebel stronghold in Baba Amr neighborhood on March 1 but appear to be facing continued resistance from other parts of the city.

Activists also reported demonstrations in different parts of Syria after midday Muslim prayers, and said government troops fired on protesters.

In Jordan’s capital Amman, blind Syrian cleric Ahmad al-Sayasneh preached to 1,000 Syrian anti-Assad protesters Friday to “remain steadfast until our tyrant leadership is ousted.”