Bloodshed continues in Syria:

EU slaps fresh series of sanctions on Syrian regime

Syrian authorities lash out at Arab, Western countries, Tunis conference resolutions

Kosovo-fashion international military action possibility

Syrian National Council supports safe exit for Assad

Russian MP carries message from Damascus that Assad won’t quit

The European Union imposed sanctions on seven Syrian cabinet ministers on Tuesday for their role in a bloody crackdown on dissent, the latest move aimed at pressuring President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

As Assad's forces continued to shell opposition strongholds the EU issued a list of top officials it said were providing material help for the violence.

The list, published in the EU's Official Journal, imposes travel bans and asset freezes on figures including Health Minister Health Minister Wael al-Halki, for his role in denying protesters medical care.

Telecoms Minister Imad Sabouni was accused of curbing access to the media. Transport Minister Fayssal Abbas was listed for providing logistical support for repression.

The EU said Education Minister Saleh al-Rashed was responsible for letting schools to be used as makeshift prisons. Listed officials are banned from traveling to the EU and any assets they hold with European companies are frozen.

Playing down any possibility of Libya-style military intervention, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé said the EU's options were limited. "As long as we have not halted the massacres, we are impotent, but we are not inactive," he told Swiss radio.

Juppé has called for Assad and his colleagues to be referred to the International Criminal Court.

Oil Minister Sufian Alao and Industry Minister Adnan Salakho were included on the list for conducting policies that finance the government. Also on the list was presidential adviser Mansour Fadlallah Azzam.

The sanctions, adopted by EU foreign ministers on Monday, also froze the assets of the Syrian central bank and banned trading in gold, precious metals and diamonds with Syrian state institutions.

A Syrian state-run newspaper says the Friends of Syria conference in Tunisia has encouraged "terrorists" to shed more blood.

The Saturday commentary in Al Thawra daily singled out for criticism Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, who said during Friday's 60-nation gathering that he supported giving weapons and ammunition to groups fighting Assad.

The newspaper said that the prince, by "rudely" supporting an armed opposition, became a "direct partner in shedding more Syrian blood."

The meeting aims at halting an 11-month crackdown which the U.N. said in January had left more than 5,400 dead.

The Syrian regime has accused the opposition of being terrorists acting out a foreign plot.

Tunisia offered on Tuesday to give Syrian President Assad political asylum if that helps to end a crackdown on the near-year-old uprising against his rule.

"Tunisia is ready in principle to grant political asylum to Bashar al-Assad and his family if this proposal will contribute to stopping the bloodshed," Adnen Monssar, an aide to President Moncef al-Marzouki, told Reuters.

Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki suggested during the "Friends of Syria" conference of Western and Arab powers in Tunis last week that Russia, which has vetoed U.N. Security Council action against the Syrian regime, give Assad refuge.

On Tuesday, his aide said Tunisia was willing to take him itself.

Syrian forces shelled opposition strongholds, killing at least 25 people, on Tuesday and France said the Security Council was starting work on a draft resolution on the violence and the need to gain humanitarian access to Homs and other embattled areas.

The "Friends of Syria" called on Assad on Friday to end the killing of civilians and urged him to allow in urgent humanitarian aid. But the outside world has proved powerless to halt the killing in Syria, where repression of initially peaceful protests has spawned an armed insurrection.

Tunisia, whose peaceful revolution a year ago sparked the Arab Spring uprisings that saw off autocratic leaders in Egypt, Libya and Yemen, is opposed to a Libya-style military campaign against Syria. It has, however, expelled the Syrian ambassador in protest against what it has called the "heinous massacres against the Syrian people."

The Arab League is waiting on the U.N., Russia and China are holding up the Security Council, and Assad is massacring more Syrians each day. But Obama shouldn’t rush in—an international intervention outside a legal mandate would play into Assad’s hands.

It is increasingly clear that Bashar al-Assad and his brother, Maher, are following their father’s playbook from the Hama massacre of 1982. In that year, days of heavy bombardment of residential areas led to a house-to-house pogrom and the disappearance of thousands of men between the ages of 13 and 70.

Incredibly, 30 years to the month later, we seem to be seeing a rerun of this slaughter in Homs, a city the size of Boston.

There are also worrying signs that such tactics will be replicated in other cities and towns throughout the country.

Though many of us warned of such a massacre at the start of the uprising, some 11 months ago, the simple truth today is there is no opposition inside or outside Syria that can stop Assad from continuing his murderous ways.

The actions of the international community have been too little, too late. The latest suggestions among policymakers, experts, and talking heads include tightening economic sanctions, recognizing the opposition Syrian National Council, and forming a “Friends of Syria” international contact group, which will meet for the first time on Feb. 24 in Tunis.

Such actions could have been implemented months ago, as all can be executed independently and without the approval of the increasingly stubborn Russia and China.

Despite the disappointment of the latest Russian and Chinese vetoes in the Security Council, a recent Arab League meeting has again sought to turn to the United Nations by proposing a hybrid Arab League–U.N. peacekeeping mission. This marks the second time the Arab League has asked the international community to intervene in the so-called Arab Awakenings; the first instance was in Libya.

While the idea was treated with skepticism and rejected by Assad, it has gained in relevance as Arab and Western states, and Russia in particular, increasingly focus on stopping the violence.

The latest Russian reaction to the proposal has indicated Moscow’s willingness to join the peacekeeping mission if there is agreement with the Assad regime. It may be the first sign of convergence in the positions of the key international players.

However, Assad has made certain that there is no peace to keep. If the proposal is to succeed, Moscow will have to lean heavily on Damascus to stop its military crackdown immediately and press for Assad’s forces to move back to their barracks.

Although there is still no consensus among the Syrian opposition, their Arab and Western supporters, and Russia and China on the political transition in Syria, Moscow may just see here the opportunity to frame the international response to the Syrian crisis on its own terms.

It may coincide with a greater willingness by Assad’s opponents in the West and Arab world to accept actions to defuse the crisis before the ouster of Assad.

Separately, there have been calls for international military intervention, following the example of Kosovo, where President Clinton launched a NATO air campaign without U.N. approval to protect Kosovars from the Serbian aggressors.

At the time, Russia and China got little support for a Security Council censure of the West’s actions.

It is under a similar “humanitarian emergency” that some in the Washington Beltway are encouraging Obama to act in Syria without a U.N. Security Council mandate and de facto outside the framework of international law. Many are invoking the doctrine of “responsibility to protect,” or RtoP, to justify immediate and unsanctioned action.

The achievement of RtoP in the 2005 U.N. World Summit was a landmark occasion, which I was fortunate enough to work on as a U.N. staffer.

The unanimous decision of heads of states and governments to mandate the international community to take collective action when a state was “manifestly failing” to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity was a truly groundbreaking achievement.

However, advocates of international military intervention in Syria using the RtoP doctrine should take a closer look at its implementing provisions. One of these, crucially, is that the last resort of military action should be through the Security Council and in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.

Tension, therefore, between the U.N. Charter’s protection of human rights and its preservation of state sovereignty has again come to the fore, especially as evidence mounts that Assad’s regime is committing crimes against humanity in a systematic and widespread fashion.

International military action outside an international legal mandate is exactly what Assad wants. It will split the international community further and deepen the mistrust between the great powers, particularly the West and Russia, China, and the other BRICs.

Unlike Libya or even Iraq, though, the differences will be along one of the region’s primary axis points: the Syria fault line. It also would seriously threaten to unravel the consensus that RtoP achieved in 2005.

Assad and his regime surely would also seek to present a future Iraq-like situation in Syria, in which a “coalition of the willing” chose to act to oust an Arab leader but ended up killing civilians and fueling a bloody civil war.

As difficult as it is proving to be, international intervention in Syria needs to be aligned with international law. Many have given up hope that Russia and China can be part of the consensus and that international military intervention is necessary in Syria.

However, we must try again.

Syrian protesters dubbed one of their Friday protests “Russia Is Killing Our Children,” demonstrating that Syrians are increasingly hostile to Putin’s Russia.

The rest of the Arab world is following suit.

The single most important thing both Russia and China can do now, therefore, is to join international efforts to stop the violence in Syria.

That means implementing the Arab League Plan of Action of Nov. 2, which Assad signed and which the Russians say they support.

The Middle East region has seen too much international military intervention that does not advance the principles of legality, justice, and the promotion of human rights.

Now is the time for the international community to act collectively according to such principles. In Syria, it has the ultimate responsibility to protect civilians and to save lives by preventing the most egregious mass violations of human rights in Homs and other towns and cities.

Indeed, it is precisely by following these principles that the international community distinguishes itself from the Assad regime.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had said the Syrian National Council would demonstrate at international talks in Tunis that there is an alternative to President Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"We believe that the Syrian National Council, which will be there sitting at the table, will show that there is an alternative to the Assad regime, one that respects the rights of all Syrians," she told reporters in London this week.

The SNC is one of several Syrian opposition groups invited to the so-called Friends of Syria meeting, which aims to boost international action to end the country's increasingly bloody crisis.

"The consensus opinion by the Arab League and all the others who are working and planning this conference is that the SNC is a credible representative and therefore they will be present," Clinton said.

"We are seeing increasing defections, we are seeing a lot of pressure on the inner regime," she added after an international meeting on Somalia. "There is growing evidence that some of the officials in the Syrian government are beginning to hedge their bets, moving assets, moving family members, looking for a possible exit strategy."

A US official said earlier that Arab and Western powers would use the Tunis meeting to challenge the Syrian regime to accept a proposal to allow in humanitarian aid, as the city of Homs was bombarded for a 20th straight day.

"We look forward to concrete progress on three fronts: providing humanitarian relief, increasing pressure on the regime, and preparing for a democratic transition," Clinton said. "To that end, we hope to see new pledges of emergency assistance for Syrians caught in Assad's stranglehold, and international coordination and diplomatic pressure on Damascus to allow it to get to those who need it most."

SNC representatives and other opposition groups at Friday's meeting were expected to come under pressure to work for the creation of a united group to represent opponents of the regime.

At least 52 people were killed in violence across Syria on Thursday, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

More than 7,600 people have been killed in the 11 months since Assad's regime launched a bloody crackdown on protesters in March, most of them civilians, according to the Observatory.

Assad is not ready to resign and claims to feel strong support despite 11 months of deadly protests, a top Russian lawmaker who met the Syrian president in Damascus this week said on Friday.

"I met Assad and did not get the impression that this is a person who is ready to leave power tomorrow," Alexei Pushkov, the head of the international affairs committee of the State Duma lower house, told reporters.

"The protest movement exists, but it is not such that the president would feel everything crumbling around him -- that everything is falling apart and he needs to resign," Pushkov said.

Assad's ouster "is an absolutely artificial and far-fetched issue," he said, adding that he talked to the Syrian strongman for more than an hour.

Last week's four-day visit by Pushkov, a member of the ruling United Russia party and former television commentator, came after Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov flew to Damascus for talks with Assad earlier in the month.

Lavrov secured a pledge to halt violence and quickly hold a constitutional referendum, and idea dismissed by the US State Department as "quite laughable".

Russia has come under strong condemnation for blocking together with China a UN Security Council draft resolution condemning Moscow's Soviet-era ally for the violence.

It has refused to support calls for Assad to resign and instead repeatedly called for the start of dialogue that the opposition says is impossible amid the bloodshed.

Pushkov said Assad's support in the capital was particularly strong.

"You can sense tensions (in Damascus), but there is no sense that the city is on the verge of a civil war," he said. "Unfortunately, there are demonstrations with some casualties, but the stores are open and everything stays open until late. ... Everyday life looks normal."