The European Union imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's British-born wife and several other members of his family and administration Friday.
Meanwhile in Geneva, the United Nations Human Rights Council also toughened its stance on Syria with a sharp condemnation of Syria's “escalating violence” and called for an extension of a probe into the Syrian government's alleged abuses in the last year of unrest.
The 47-member body voted 41 to three in favor of an EU-sponsored resolution backed by the United States and Arab countries. China, Russia and Cuba voted against the measure.
In Washington, the Obama administration said it will allow Syrians in the country to remain even after their visa expired and not deport those in the U.S. illegally.
Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said Syrians in the United States will be given protected status because they would “they would face serious threats to their personal safety” if they were to return.
European foreign ministers meeting in Brussels slapped new sanctions on Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad, the president's mother and sister, as well as eight government officials. The sanctions will go into effect Saturday.
Ahead of the EU meeting in Brussel, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the European body is greatly concerned over the Syrian crisis and that sanctions are a “really important tool” to include in the political framework on Syria.
“I never underestimate that sanctions make a significant difference because they do two things, one is they target individuals' entities in ways that prevent them from carrying on business as usual. And secondly they make the strong political statement about how the international community feels about what's going on.”
The sanctions come after emails leaked show Mrs. Assad allegedly went on lavish shopping sprees while Syria descended into violence. British officials say the EU travel ban can not stop the Syrian first lady from traveling to Britain, if she has retained her citizenship.
The diplomatic action comes as opposition activists reported continued violence on Friday. The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights told VOA three Syrian army defectors were killed during heavy fighting in Azaz, near the border with Turkey. It said 13 civilians died Friday.
The rights group also said Syrian forces continued their assault on the central city of Homs – the site of a highly publicized siege earlier in the year.
Amnesty International called on UN special envoy to Syria Kofi Annan to include the monitoring of human rights abuses in his six-point peace plan backed by the UN Security Council earlier this week. The London-based human rights group says its “essential” to document the crimes in order to hold those responsible accountable in the future.
Annan's spokesperson says the former U.N. chief plans to travel to Moscow and Beijing later this week for crisis talks on the issue. He said Annan is still “carefully” studying the Syrian responses his proposal, after returning from three days of intensive talks in Damascus.
The United Nations says at least 8,000 people have been killed in the Assad government's violent crackdown on the revolt, which began with peaceful protests and became increasingly militarized as army defectors attacked pro-Assad troops who assaulted civilians.