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Arab League imposes sanctions on Syria

The Arab League imposed unprecedented sanctions on Syria on Sunday, including a freeze on financial assets in Arab countries and a travel ban on senior officials, after it failed to stop its crackdown on protesters.

The measures also will halt dealings with the Syrian central bank, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad Bin Jasim Bin Jaber Al Thani told reporters in Cairo.

The Arab League banned financial transactions and trade with the Syrian government, excluding basic commodities, he said.

President Bashar Assad, 46, is under economic and political pressure to end an eight-month crackdown against demonstrators, inspired by popular movements that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. The violence has moved the country closer to a civil war as military personnel defect and take up arms against the government.

"Sanctions may put more pressure on Assad, but he will continue his current crackdown as is unless something really big happens," said Paul Sullivan, a political scientist specializing in Middle East security at Georgetown University in Washington. "It has all the indications of a fall into civil war so far."

The United Nations estimates that 3,500 people have been killed since the start of the protests in mid-March.

Thirty-one people were killed by security forces , Al-Jazeera television reported, citing activists.

The economic sanctions are the first the Arab League has imposed on a member state since its formation in 1945.

In 1979, the league suspended Egypt's membership after President Anwar Sadat signed a peace agreement with Israel; Egypt was reinstated in 1989.

Iraq and Lebanon, neighbors of Syria, abstained from voting on 's decision.

The sanctions were drafted to target Syrian officials and aren't intended to hurt the Syrian people, Sheikh Hamad said.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the Arab League's "leadership" in seeking an end to the "horrific violence" in Syria, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in an emailed statement.

The imposition of the measures was "unprecedented," Syrian state TV said after the decision was announced.

Assad, who inherited power from his father in 2000, has moved to ease Syria's economic isolation and encourage foreign investment.

He had encouraged private industry in Syria's state-dominated economy to provide long-term financing for development and economic reforms.

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