EU slaps sanctions on more Syria officials; Italy recalls its Damascus ambassador
European Union's Catherine Ashton says five individuals targeted are 'involved in, or associated with, violent repression' of Syrian opposition; Russia UN ambassador says Security Council statement on Syria 'a satisfactory step.'
Syrian Defense Minister Ali Habib Mahmoud on Tuesday became the third member of President Bashar Assad's cabinet to face a European Union travel ban and asset freeze, as the bloc unveiled a fresh set of sanctions.
The five new individuals targeted include two associates of the Assad family, including one of the president's uncles, and two top intelligence officials.
One is the leader of military intelligence in Hama, where the army has used tanks to suppress protests in recent days.
All are "involved in or associated with the violent repression" of anti-regime protesters, the EU's top foreign policy official, Catherine Ashton, said on Monday.
They are now banned from traveling to the EU or accessing any funds they may have stored in the bloc.
The five names were published in the EU's official journal on Tuesday, marking the entry into force of the new sanctions. They followed a deadly weekend assault by security forces on Syrian protesters, which activists say left more than 130 people dead.
The EU had already targeted 30 other officials and Assad allies in Syria and Iran under three previous rounds of travel bans and asset freezes - including Assad, Vice President Farouq al-Sharaa and Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Al-Shaar.
Ashton warned on Monday that more sanctions would follow "should the Syrian leadership persist in its current path."
Italy on Tuesday recalled its ambassador to Syria to protest the clampdown by authorities in Damascus against anti-government demonstrators.
Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has recalled Ambassador Achille Amerio for consultations due to "the horrible repression against the civilian population in Syria," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
Frattini has also proposed that other European Union member states recall their ambassadors to Damascus, according to the statement.
At least 24 people have been killed in several cities across Syria in the most recent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, a human rights group said Tuesday.
Troops used force to disperse mass protests that took place after the Iftar, or the fast-breaking meal, at the start of Ramadan Monday night.
'A satisfactory step'
Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations Security Council indicated on Tuesday that his country may no longer resist a joint signal against the violence in Syria.
The 15-member council has been at odds over how to react to the brutal crackdown on protesters by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Veto-powers Russia and China had voiced opposition to any resolution condemning the government in Damascus.
As the council met into Tuesday, Russia seemed to signal a change of heart, supporting a chairman's statement, but not backing a stronger signal, such as a resolution.
"In my view, a statement by the UN Security Council chairman or a statement for the press would be quite a satisfactory step," Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was quoted as saying by Russia's Iter-Tass news agency