The United States has imposed sanctions on Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president, and six senior Syrian officials for human rights abuses over their brutal crackdown on anti-government protests.
The White House announced the sanctions on Wednesday, a day before Barack Obama, the US president, was to deliver a major speech on the uprisings throughout the Arab world with prominent mentions of Syria
The sanctions are part of "an effort to increase pressure on the government of Syria to end its violence against its people and begin transitioning to a democratic system," a US official told the AFP news agency on the condition of anonymity.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Obama said he issued the new sanctions order as a response to the Syrian government's "continuous escalation of violence against the people of Syria".
Obama cited "attacks on protesters, arrests and harassment of protesters and political activists, and repression of democratic change, overseen and executed by numerous elements of the Syrian government".