Canada is imposing a raft of new sanctions on Syria to “put the squeeze” on the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said on Friday.
“We will not sit idly by, not while Assad and his thugs continue to violate the rights of the Syrian people,” Mr. Baird said. “The growing isolation of this despotic regime sends one message and one message only: Assad is cut off.”
The sanctions will end all exports of equipment to Syria, including any materials that could help the regime monitor the telephone and Internet communications of protesters.
Imports from Syria, except for food, are also banned, as is investment in the country, he said. Canada will also freeze the assets of anyone associated with the Syrian regime and ban all economic dealings with those individuals.
An estimated 5,000 people have been killed since protesters began taking to the streets earlier this year, according to a United Nations.
The European Union, the United States and the Arab League have also imposed sanctions on the country in an effort to force the Syrian government to end its violent crackdown on protesters.
Mr. Baird said “the vice is tightening” on Mr. Assad, as international calls for his resignation grow. “Some of his most loyal historic supporters have renounced his violent crackdown and have imposed tough and targeted sanctions,” he said.
He praised the decision of the Arab League to suspend Syria’s membership and impose economic and diplomatic sanctions, adding the Arab League has “really filled the void” left by the United Nations Security Council’s inaction.
The UN issued a statement this fall condemning the violence in Syria, but has not passed a resolution calling for an arms embargo on the country, as the United States and European members of the Security Council had hoped for.
Representatives from the Syrian National Council, an umbrella group for the country’s opposition, were in Ottawa Friday to meet with Mr. Baird. They said they want to see the UN take action to stop the violence.
“We are asking the international community to do whatever they [can]to stop the killing,” Syrian National Council member Ahmad Ramadan said. “The brutality has been increasing and we place this responsibility on the international community to stop the bloodshed.”
Mr. Ramadan said the Syrian National Council isn’t asking for a specific type of intervention, but the group is promoting the idea of establishing safe havens and corridors to help Syrian civilians and government defectors escape the regime.
The group also called their meeting with Mr. Baird “constructive,” and thanked Canada for being among the first to call on Mr. Assad to step down.
Canada’s new sanctions were announced just hours after two car bombs ripped through Damascus, killing at least 40 people on Friday. The Syrian government has claimed the blasts are evidence that the violence in the streets is the work of terrorists, and suggested al-Qaeda could be responsible.
Asked about the incident on Friday, Mr. Baird rejected the government’s suggestion outright. “If it wasn’t so serious, it would almost be comical,” he said.
The Syrian National Council representatives blamed the regime, saying it was “ludicrous” to think someone could have driven two cars loaded with explosives into the heavily protected area where the blasts occurred. “We believe the regime is responsible for the explosions,” Mr. Ramadan said.
He said the regime was trying to divert the world’s attention at a time when Arab League observers had just arrived in the country to monitor the situation.