WASHINGTON - U.S. officials say the Obama administration has slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and several others for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.
The officials said the sanctions would come from the Treasury Department, and are being unveiled the day before President Barack Obama delivers a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world with prominent mention of Syria.
In a press release, the Treasury Department said the six being sanctioned by the U.S. are: Bashar al-Assad, president; Farouk al-Shara, vice president; Adel Safar, prime minister; Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, minister of the Interior; Ali Habib Mahmoud, Minister of Defense; Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, head of Syrian Military Intelligence; and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, director of Political Security Directorate. Additionally, several other people and entities related to Syrian intelligence and its military are being sanctioned.
The release states that "any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed...have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them."
The move comes as Assad said his security forces had made mistakes during the two-month uprising and blamed poorly trained police at least in part for the crackdown that has killed more than 850 people.
While Assad acknowledged mistakes, he also suggested in statements published Wednesday that the current "crisis" was nearing its end, even as attacks raged.
The comments by Bashar Assad - carried in the private Al-Watan newspaper - appear designed to portray confidence and defiance as international pressures mount over Syria's brutal offensive against the uprising challenging Assad's authoritarian rule.
There were no signs of Assad's forces easing its offensives despite the boasts of gaining the upper hand.
Tanks shelled a western border town, which has been the focus of attacks since last week. Rights groups also said troops used heavy machine guns to attack a neighborhood in the central city of Homs, which has been a hotbed of protests.
While the West lashed out, Assad was bolstered by a longtime ally as Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Moscow will not support any U.N. resolutions or sanctions against Syria.
Meanwhile, the Swiss government passed a measure restricting arms sales to Syria and freezing the assets and banning the travel to Switzerland of 13 senior Syrian officials. The arms embargo is largely theoretical because Switzerland hasn't exported weapons to Syria in over a decade, but any Swiss banks holding assets of the 13 officials will have to declare them immediately to the government.