EU targets 10 top Assad officials in new Syria sanctions

The European Union has imposed sanctions on 10 more officials over their roles in the "violent repression" of Syria's civilian population. The move is a response to the Syrian regime's devastating offensive in Aleppo.

The EU said in a statement Thursday the 10 individuals included "high-ranking military officials and senior figures" linked to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government.

This decision means that 217 people are currently targeted by a travel ban and an asset freeze for the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria, the statement said. The names of the officials are expected to be published on Friday.

The European Council, which represents EU member states, also has sanctions in place against 69 entities linked to the regime, as well as an oil embargo, a freeze on Syrian central bank assets, and restrictions on investments and technology exports to Syria. Those broader measures were extended in May and run until June 2017.

Up to 300,000 civilians are believed to be trapped in Aleppo

Aleppo siege

In recent weeks, the EU has voiced increasing concerns over a Syrian government-led bombing campaign against rebel forces in Aleppo. Thousands of civilians are believed to be trapped in the besieged northern city with limited access to food and medical supplies. Countries in the EU have said the shelling of civilian areas, supported by Russia, could amount to war crimes.

The United Nations vowed on Thursday to stick to its plan to get food into the rebel-held eastern part of the city and secure medical evacuations of hundreds of sick and wounded.

"We are not giving up," UN humanitarian adviser Jan Egeland told reporters in Geneva on Thursday. He added that a lack of trust, as well as increased fear and unacceptable preconditions on both sides have stymied past efforts to get civilians out of Aleppo.

Airstrikes by Russian and Syrian government planes on the city have been halted for nine days now in anticipation of the evacuations, but efforts have failed because Syrian rebels say there have been no safety guarantees.

Up to 300,000 civilians have been killed and millions have been forced from their homes because of the war in Syria, which began in 2011 as an uprising against the Assad government.

nm/sms (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Sanctions hinder imports

Six years of conflict have brought the Syrian health service, once one of the best in the Middle East, close to collapse. Fewer than half of the country's hospitals are fully functioning. Around 200 children visit the Children's Hospital in Damascus every week, with more than 70 percent from outside the capital.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Foreign firms remain wary

Young cancer patients wait for treatment at Damascus Children's Hospital. Local and World Health Organization officials blame Western sanctions for severely restricting pharmaceutical imports, even though medical supplies are largely exempt from measures imposed by the United States and European Union.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

State spending cuts

Cuts in health expenditure by the Syrian government fighting a hugely expensive war, a drastic fall in the value of the currency and indirect effects of the sanctions are all deepening the misery of patients who need foreign-made drugs. Before the conflict, Syria produced 90 percent of the medicines it needed but anti-cancer drugs were among those where it traditionally relied on imports.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Cuts in Syria's health budget

Nurses taking care of a sick child. The World Health Organization in Syria, says medicine imports have been hit by significant cuts in the government's health budget since the war began in 2011. Adding up tot hat is a 90 percent drop in the value of the Syrian pound, which has made some pharmaceuticals prohibitively expensive.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

More than a lack of cash

"The impact of economic sanctions imposed on Syria heavily affected the procurement of some specific medicine including anti-cancer medicines," says Elizabeth Hoff, the WHO representative in Syria. "The sanctions were preventing many international pharmaceutical companies from dealing with the Syrian authorities as well as hindering foreign banks in handling payments for imported drugs."

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Patients waiting for treatment

Cancer patient Fahd plays with his mobile phone while his mother sits by his bed. Both the U.S. and EU sanctions include exemptions for medicines and other humanitarian supplies. However, by clamping down on financial transactions and barring much business with the Syrian government, the sanctions are indirectly affecting trade in pharmaceuticals.

Syria sanctions hit child cancer treatment

Delays in treatment

One private charity, Basma, is trying to help out by funding cancer drugs for poor families. The proportion of patients who need assistance has risen from about 30 percent to nearly 80 percent since the war began, according to executive manager Rima Salem. Salem finds the delays in treatment worrying. "A child with cancer might die waiting for his turn to get treatment," she said.