Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat – Damascus is coming under increasing pressure from the international community with regards to the brutal crackdown being carried out by the Syrian authorities against the protests and demonstrations taking place in the country. Earlier this week, the European Union [EU] imposed sanctions targeting 13 members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle, including his brother and several cousins.
According to an official in Paris, who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, “the Syrian regime is in the process of burning its final cards, and time is running out for it to change its behavior.” The official added “the international community will not stop putting pressure on Damascus.”
The French source acknowledged that Bashar al-Assad is dragging Syria deeper into the international wilderness, and stressed that the US and the EU will continue to increase the pressure on Damascus for two inter-connected reasons; firstly in order to put an end to the Syrian regime’s suppression and use of military force against protestors and demonstrators, and secondly in order to urge the Syrian regime to carry out genuine reform in response to the demands being made by the protest movement in the country, from implementing political pluralism and allowing the establishment of political parties to allowing various freedoms, including freedom of expression.
Since the beginning of the protests in Syria, human rights groups estimate that between 600 and 700 people have been killed, whilst at least 8,000 people have been arrested.
The French source also confirmed to Asharq Al-Awsat that the international community’s position towards Syria “will change according to changes in Syria’s behavior” but stressed that this pressure will not be limited to imposing additional sanctions on Syria, or expanding the list of Syrian figures whose assets have been frozen, or whose names have been added to the travel ban list. The source stressed that the Brussels travel ban and asset freeze list may be expanded to include Syrian President Bashar al-Assad himself, and a number of his close advisers, which is something that Britain, Germany and others in the EU have been pushing for, despite the reservations of a number of other EU states.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat “can you imagine that the Syrian president will not be allowed to visit any of the 27 European capitals…these sanctions will not be raised overnight, but will last as long as the reason that they were first issued lasts.”
The source stressed that communications were taking place between Paris, Washington, and London, to look at what additional steps can be taken against Syria, in addition to the harsh sanctions taken against Damascus by the US and Europe, whether this is via the UN Security Council or through unilateral measures. The source acknowledged that the UN route may no longer be viable today due to Chinese and Russian opposition, but stressed that this “position may change” if the Syrian authorities continue to violently suppress the demonstrators, referring to the Libyan scenario, which saw both Russia and Moscow initially oppose any UN sanction, before ultimately allowing Security Council resolution 1973 to be passed by abstaining from the vote.
Paris has previously stated that the international pressure on Damascus can be increased in stages, and the French official who spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity acknowledged that there are 4 additional steps which can be taken. These include increasing the sanctions to personally include President Bashar al-Assad, which is the next step being taken by the international community. Following this, the international community could announce that the Syrian regime has lost its legitimacy due to the violence it is carrying out against its own citizens, following this pressure could be increased by the EU calling on the regime to step down from power, and finally through calls for the international judiciary to intervene in the situation in Syria.
Until now, Paris has not reached the “point of no-return” with Damascus, and the EU, as well as Washington, is continuing to call on Damascus to review its policies and implement reform, but as the source stressed, “time is running out for Syria.”