The United States slapped sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on antigovernment protests, for the first time personally penalizing the Syrian leader for actions of his security forces.
The White House announced the sanctions Wednesday. The Obama administration had pinned hopes on Assad, seen until recent months as a pragmatist and potential reformer who could buck Iranian influence and help broker an eventual Arab peace deal with Israel.
The sanctions will freeze any assets Assad and the six Syrian government officials have in U.S. jurisdiction and make it illegal for Americans to do business with them. The United States had imposed similar sanctions on two of Assad's relatives and another top Syrian official last month but had thus far refrained from going after Assad himself.
Treasury officials could give no estimate on how much in Assad's assets were in the United States that would be frozen by the new sanctions.
In Syria, Assad was quoted as saying the country's security forces have made mistakes during the uprising, blaming poorly trained police officers at least in part for the bloody crackdown. His comments were carried Wednesday in the private Al-Watan newspaper.
Also on Wednesday, witnesses said the Syrian army shelled the western border town of Talkalakh with tanks for the fourth consecutive day. Syrians fleeing to Lebanon have described execution-style slayings and bodies in the streets in Talkalakh.