Willam Hague warns Syria over sanctions

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The Independent Online

Syria could be hit with asset freezes and travel bans across Europe, Foreign Secretary William Hague said today.

He revealed the possible sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad's regime in the House of Commons, where MPs were told revolutions sweeping north Africa and the Middle East could "be an even more significant blow to al Qaida" than Osama bin Laden's death.

Shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander said peaceful protests in Syria and Bahrain, which followed demonstrations in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, should be allowed to continue despite violent crackdowns by security forces.

He said: "The success of the Arab Spring could yet be an even more significant blow to al Qaida."

Speaking at Foreign Office questions in the Commons, Mr Hague said: "This is a moment for people across the Middle East to reflect that in so many countries it has been possible to bring about peaceful and democratic change.

"That may yet happen in more countries. The violent philosophy of al Qaida, believing only violence and death can bring about change, is bankrupt and should be increasingly vanquished across the Middle East."

Mr Hague said the UK Government was calling for the European Union's external action service to get involved over Syria.

He said: "The UK is in the forefront of pressing for action by the EU. At the end of last week we secured agreement on an arms embargo.

"We are now working with our European partners on targeted sanctions on asset freezes and travel bans. I will be discussing this further with the French foreign minister this evening.

"We are also highly active at the United Nations Security Council."

But he added: "Syria is a difficult issue at the UN Security Council and some of the members, including the permanent members, require a good deal of convincing that the UN should be taking any action."

Mr Hague criticised the crackdowns by governments across the Middle East, telling MPs: "No true stability can result from the repression of legitimate demands for political participation and the rule of law.

"Nothing can justify the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators.

"We are supporting peaceful reform in Tunisia and Egypt, just as we are opposing violence elsewhere and urging all governments in the region to respond positively to popular calls for better government."

Labour's Tony Lloyd (Manchester Central) said: "The situation in Syria has naturally been overshadowed by events in Libya and the news from Pakistan, but clearly the deaths of so many people and the actions of the authorities in Damascus have been gross and unacceptable."

Mr Hague told him: "Sadly, they are increasingly taking the route of repression."