New sanctions against Syria come into effect on Saturday as Turkey says it has intercepted an arms shipment at sea destined for the protest-wracked country after another day of deadly demonstrations.
Both the European Union and Switzerland have targeted Syria’s oil sector in new sanctions that bite from Saturday, with the E.U. banning new investments there and also prohibiting the delivery of bank notes to Syria’s central bank. The E.U. has also added two individuals and six companies to a list of people and entities facing an assets freeze and travel ban.
The new measures are the seventh set of E.U. sanctions imposed to punish the regime of President Bashar al-Assad for its relentless crackdown on dissent that erupted in mid March.
Earlier this month, the E.U. adopted a ban on Syrian crude oil imports. That is expected to hit hard, as the E.U. buys 95 percent of Syrian oil exports, providing a third of the regime’s hard currency earnings.
The Swiss sanctions put an embargo on the import, sale and transport of Syrian oil and oil products.
Turkey, formerly a key regional friend of Syria, has intercepted a shipload of weapons bound for Syria, the Anatolia news agency reported.
“Turkey has arrested a ship flying the Syrian flag and carrying weapons,” it quoted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as telling reporters in New York, where he attended the U.N. General Assembly.
Erdogan did not say when and where the ship was stopped.
The Turkish leader lashed out at Assad last week, telling him the era of oppressive dictators was past.
“We have already made a decision to stop and prevent any vehicle carrying any type of weapon to Syria. We told them our decision as well as shared it with neighboring countries,” Anatolia quoted Erdogan as saying.
Turkish authorities in August intercepted an arms shipment from Iran to Syria. In March, Turkey told a U.N. Security Council panel it seized a cache of weapons Iran was attempting to export in breach of a U.N. arms embargo.
After long maintaining close relations with its neighbor, Turkey has adopted a tougher stance towards Assad, urging him to end a military crackdown on a popular uprising and to launch democratic reforms.
On Tuesday, Erdogan said he had broken off dialogue with Damascus and warned of sanctions, after talks with U.S. President Barack Obama in which the two discussed the need to "increase pressure" on Assad's regime.
Bilateral trade between Turkey and Syria was $2.5 billion in 2010, up from $500 million in 2004. Investments of Turkish firms in Syria reached $260 million, Turkish data show.
Assad’s attempt to stamp out dissent by assaulting restive areas with troops and tanks has prompted the United States and the European Union to gradually escalate economic sanctions against the authoritarian Damascus leadership.
Turkey, which has been Syria’s main trading partner, has not indicated what type of sanctions it might impose on Syria, but Turkish officials have said they would target the administration and not the Syrian people.
Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said this week Turkey will continue providing power supplies to Syria.
Erdogan, who once vacationed together with Assad and his family on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, has stopped short of calling for Assad’s departure.