US sanctions hit Syria's leader
Assad held responsible for violent repression as protesters still being shot
The US has finally taken the step of imposing sanctions on Syria's president, Bashar al-Assad, for human rights abuses, as President Obama prepares to give his first major speech on the Arab Spring.
With protesters still being shot in Syria's streets, it is the first time Mr Assad has been personally held responsible by the international community for his government's violent repression of protests.
The sanctions, which were announced last night, will freeze Mr Assad's assets and are part of "an effort to increase pressure on the government of Syria to end its violence against its people", a White House official said.
"It is up to Mr Assad to lead a political transition or to leave," said a spokesman. The sanctions also penalised six senior officials.
In his speech today, Mr Obama will criticise Mr Assad by name for the first time.
He will also try to breathe life into the stalled Israel-Palestine peace talks, after criticism that the US has lacked consistency in its reaction to this year's dramatic changes in the Middle East.
Mr Assad admitted yesterday that his security forces had made mistakes during the uprising against his regime and blamed poorly trained police officers for their handing of the protests.
He insisted that Syria had "overcome the crisis". However, there have been reports of shelling and firing of machine guns at protesters in the border town of Tall Kalakh, killing at least eight.
The White House has largely stayed silent as Syrian security forces have killed up to 900 pro-democracy demonstrators.
Washington had hoped that the protests would lead to reforms, which in turn would lead Mr Assad's government away from the embrace of Iran, but patience has ebbed away.
Mr Obama hopes to correct the impression that American relevance is declining in the Middle East and North Africa, while making it clear that the US should not be regarded as omnipotent.
Mr Obama has been accused of careering from one crisis to the next without a strategy.(© Daily Telegraph, London)