The Obama administration imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad and six other officials for human-rights abuses for cracking down on pro-democracy protesters, the White House announced Wednesday.
The sanctions come a day before Obama is to address the nation on U.S. policy in the Middle East, where a wave of protests have deposed at least two governments and rattled leaders in several others in the region. The demonstrations have led to a civil war in Libya and fierce repression in Syria.
The Obama administration has been sharply critical of the Syrian government for its efforts to beat back pro-democracy demonstrators during the last two months of unrest. Estimates vary, but the dead are believed to number from 750 to 850.
According to the announcement and executive order, the sanctions were imposed because of the escalating violence by Syrian officials “against the people of Syria -- including through attacks on protestors, arrests and harassment of protestors and political activists and repression of democratic change.”