U.S. expands sanctions on senior Syrian officials

An anti-Syrian regime protester kisses a Syrian revolutionary flag during a demonstration after Friday prayer in Beirut, Lebanon, on March 30, 2012. Fresh clashes between Syrian soldiers and rebels erupted Friday as the country's relentless violence overshadowed hopes for a peace plan brokered by U.N. envoy Kofi Annan. () AP Photo/Bilal Hussein

(AP) WASHINGTON - The Obama administration on Friday expanded sanctions against top members of Syrian President Bashar Assad's military and security apparatus, targeting his defense minister and two other senior officials.

The Treasury Department placed the Syrian defense minister Dawood Rajiha, army deputy chief of staff Munir Adanov and the head of Assad's presidential security unit Zuhayr Shalish on a blacklist that freezes any assets they may have in U.S. jurisdictions. It also bars Americans from doing business with the three men.

"The U.S. and the international community will hold to account those who stand with the Assad regime as it trains the instruments of war against Syrian civilians," Under Secretary of the Treasury David Cohen said in a statement. "The time has long since passed for Syrian officials at all levels to turn their backs on this bloody regime."

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The U.S. continued to express doubt that Assad would follow through on U.N. envoy Kofi Annan's peace proposal, which first requires a cease-fire.

"We're going to remain skeptical until we see real action on the ground, real steps being taken," state department spokesman Mark Toner said Friday.

Rajiha, the defense minister, was appointed to that post in August 2011 reportedly because of his loyalty to the Assad regime, Treasury said. Adanov has been army deputy chief of staff since at least July 2010 and is close to Assad, the department said. Shalish, a relative of Assad, is the president's personal bodyguard, it said.

Assad himself and a number of others in his inner circle have already been targeted by U.S. sanctions as the regime stepped up its brutal repression of an opposition uprising. The United Nations says more than 9,000 people have been killed in the fighting.

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