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EU puts top Syrian officials under sanctions

BRUSSELS: The European Union extended its sanctions on Syria on Monday, banning the country’s central bank chief and its finance minister from traveling in Europe and freezing their assets in a further step to isolate President Bashar Assad.
The decision to target Central Bank Gov. Duraid Durgham and Finance Minister Maamoun Hamdan, along with 16 other government ministers, made good on the EU’s threat last month to increase sanctions on Syria over the bombing of Aleppo.
Diplomats said targeting the country’s finance chiefs was aimed at pressuring Assad and limiting the central bank’s ability to obtain financing. The bloc already has a ban on dealings with the central bank, as well as an oil embargo and arms embargo.
The European Union singled out the central bank governor Durgham as “responsible for providing economic and financial support to the Syrian regime.”
Hamdan, among those picked in a government reshuffle in July, was put under sanctions along with Syria’s ministers responsible for areas such as electricity, water, industry and information.
The decision now puts a total of 234 people and 69 companies and institutions under sanctions for what the bloc said was “repression against the civilian population in Syria.”
In northern Syria, meanwhile, opposition commanders said that Syrian fighters backed by Turkey were poised to begin an assault to try to drive Daesh from Al-Bab.
Al-Bab is fast becoming a major faultline in the war in northern Syria, bringing Free Syrian Army fighters backed by Turkish armor closer than ever to frontlines held by the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian allies in nearby Aleppo.
“There is nothing between us and Al-Bab,” said one of the rebels, a commander in one of the groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner taking part in the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield operation in north Syria that began in August.
“If not in hours then in a very few days we will be inside Al-Bab,” said the commander.
Also Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said a fighter jet crashed while attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean off Syria, but the pilot survived.
In a statement to Russian news agencies, the Defense Ministry said the MiG-29K fighter crashed due to a “technical fault” a few kilometers from the carrier.
The pilot ejected and was recovered and taken aboard the ship.
“The pilot’s health is in no danger. The pilot is ready to carry out missions,” the ministry said, quoted by Interfax news agency.
The defense ministry said the plane was taking part in training flights.
It stressed that flights were still going ahead from the aircraft carrier despite the accident.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed Syria by phone on Monday and agreed to continue experts’ consultations to try to resolve the crisis.
It said Lavrov told Kerry that Washington had failed to stick to its pledge to encourage Syrian opposition to separate themselves from “terrorist” groups in Aleppo.
Lavrov also expressed “indignation” at the US decision not to issue an entry visa to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), who will miss the World Chess Championship in New York as a result.
The US-led coalition began strikes in Syria in September 2014, and has worked closely with Syrian Kurdish-led forces to push Daesh from large swathes of territory.
Such cooperation has angered Turkey, which considers the main Syrian Kurdish YPG militia a “terrorist” group, and is currently waging its own offensive inside Syria, targeting both Daesh and the Kurds.

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