The Arab League approved a series of financial sanctions against Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime on Sunday, as Arab nations step up pressure to end months of political violence in the country.

The move to impose new sanctions on Syria was supported by 19 of the 22 Arab League states.

The sanctions are believed to include a travel ban on senior Syrian officials and a halt to commercial flights to the country. Dealings with Syria's central bank would be halted, but basic commodities needed by the Syrian people would be exempted from the list of sanctions.

The vote came shortly after an opposition activist said Syrian security forces had killed 20 people on Sunday.

Qatar's Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim, who heads the organization's committee on Syria, said the sanctions were approved by 19 of the organization's 22 members.

Syria, which is also an Arab League member, was not present at the talks or the ensuing vote.

Lebanon rejected the penalties, as did Iraq, which "expressed reservations," according to Jassim.

The sanctions include a travel ban for senior Syrian officials and the suspension of trade projects with the Syrian government.

"These measures are aimed at staving off international intervention in the Syrian crisis," Jassim told a press conference in Cairo.

He was speaking after the pan-Arab organization held crisis talks on Syria.

The sanctions - the first by the bloc against a member country - were drafted with utmost attention to spare the Syrian people any harm, Jassim added.

"These measures have been drafted in a way that will not affect social and development-related aspects inside Syria and its neighbors," the Qatari premier said.

The sanctions also include freezing assets owed by the Syrian government in Arab countries and halting dealings with Syria's central bank.

"The aim of today's decision is to stop bloodshed in Syria," said Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi.

Most of Sunday's deaths occurred in Syria's restive province of Homs, according to Omar Ahsraf, a Syrian activist based in Lebanon.

"The death toll reached 20 and more than 40 were injured," Ahsraf told dpa, quoting sources inside Syria.

"The Syrian army has also stormed areas near Damascus hunting for army defectors," he added.

More than 3,500 people have been killed in the Syrian government's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters since mid-March, according to the United Nations.

קראו כתבה זו בעברית: הליגה הערבית אישרה: נכסי אסד יוקפאו, בכירי משטרו לא יוכלו לטוס