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The European Union extended sanctions against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government on Monday, imposing asset freezes and travel bans on five more people associated with a bloody crackdown on dissent.

In announcing the step, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton warned there could be further sanctions “should the Syrian leadership persist in its current path”.

She also welcomed the fact that the U.N. Security Council would hold an emergency session on Syria later on Monday and said the world body should act.

“It is time for the Security Council to take a clear stand on the need to end the violence,” she said in a statement.

Formal approval of new sanctions, drawn up by the 27 EU governments last week, came after the bloc accused Syria of an indiscriminate “massacre” of civilians in the town of Hama at the weekend.

Rights activists said 80 civilians were killed in Sunday’s tank-backed assault on Hama, where Assad’s father crushed an armed Muslim Brotherhood revolt 29 years ago by razing neighbourhoods and killing many thousands of people.

Tanks shelled a northeastern district of Hama on Monday, killing at least four more civilians, residents said.

Reed Brody, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, criticised countries including Russia, China, South Africa, India and Brazil for blocking United Nations sanctions.

“These countries have blood on their hands,” he said, adding that the Syrian people were paying the price for what was perceived as an “endless” foreign intervention in Libya.

“So China and Russia and these countries are saying ‘Oh no, we are not signing up again’ but the problem is that by refusing to act they are allowing the massacres to continue. So the Syrian people are paying for the mistakes being made in Libya.”

The EU has already imposed sanctions on Assad and 29 others, three of them Iranian military commanders, and has also targeted military-linked firms linked to the suppression of dissent. Monday’s statement did not name the new individuals targeted.

Ashton called on Syria to allow freedom of expression and assembly, release all political prisoners and institute a genuine and inclusive national dialogue.

“The brutal violence creates a serious risk of escalating tension and factional divisions and is not consistent with broad reforms,” she said.

Reuters

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