The European Union is set to tighten its arms embargo on Syria by ordering the boarding of ships and planes in EU waters and airports suspected of carrying weapons for use against opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, an EU diplomat said on Thursday.
The planned new measure could cause friction between the European Union and Russia, a key ally of Damascus and one of its main arms suppliers.
EU foreign ministers meeting on Monday are also expected to expand sanctions against Syria by adding 26 people, mostly military officials who support Assad, and two organizations that help finance the government, to an existing sanctions list, said the diplomat, who is familiar with the discussions.
EU governments gave preliminary backing to the new sanctions on Thursday and ministers are expected to give final approval on Monday, the diplomat said.
The bloc has already imposed sanctions such as asset freezes and travel bans on 49 organizations and 129 people in Syria, and a range of sanctions, including an arms embargo, on Syria as a nation.
The new rule will oblige the EU’s 27 member states to inspect and search ships in EU territorial waters and planes at EU airports if they have “reasonable grounds” to suspect they are carrying arms or equipment used for repression or banned dual-use goods.
The proposal to order the boarding of planes and ships with suspicious cargoes has been under discussion for some time.
Its passage was hastened by the mounting violence in Syria, including Wednesday’s killing of three close Assad allies in a bomb attack in Damascus and other clashes there, diplomats said.
Russia, which has a right of veto on the U.N. Security Council, provides Syria with arms and has repeatedly blocked Western drives for tougher action against Assad.
Russia and China vetoed a Security Council resolution on Thursday threatening Syrian authorities with sanctions unless they halted violence against the uprising.
A cargo ship, believed to be carrying Russian weapons to Syria, apparently turned back last month while off the British coast.
The tighter EU sanctions could also make it more difficult to supply weapons to Assad’s opponents.
U.S. intelligence officials say weapons funded by sympathizers in Saudi Arabia and Qatar are crossing the Lebanese border to the rebels. These are mostly small arms such as AK-47 semi-automatic rifles plus some anti-tank guided munitions and rocket-propelled grenades.