The European Union slapped sanctions on President Bashar al-Assad's powerful mother and wife on Friday, targeting his inner circle in an effort to force Syria to end its repression of a year-long uprising.
The EU's latest round of sanctions hit 10 other prominent personalities, including Assad's sister and sister-in-law, banning them from visiting the 27-nation bloc, freezing their assets and stopping them from shopping with European firms.
"With this new listing we are striking at the heart of the Assad clan, sending out a loud and clear message to Assad: he should step down," said Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal after fellow ministers backed the move at a meeting in Brussels.
The decision came on a day of renewed violence across Syria, with the army raining mortar rounds into the rebellious city of Homs, killing up to 11 civilians, opposition supporters said.
Live television feeds from around Syria showed a slew of anti-Assad rallies, including in the Damascus district of Barzeh, in the northwestern city of Hama, in Qamishli in the Kurdish east, and in the southern province of Deraa.
"Damascus here we come," read several placards held up by the relatively small crowds. Activists said eight people were wounded after demonstrations near five Damascus mosques were broken up by forces.
On the diplomatic front, the UN-Arab League envoy Kofi Annan, who is leading international efforts to stop the relentless mayhem, planned to travel to Moscow and Beijing this weekend for talks on the crisis, his spokesman said.
Russia and China have resisted Western and Arab demands that Assad stand down and have vetoed two UN resolutions highly critical of Damascus. However, they supported a Security Council statement this week backing Annan's peace initiative, in a move seen as a sign they were toughening their stance on Syria.
Nevertheless, both Russia and China voted against a call by the UN Human Rights Council on Friday to extend a probe into abuses by Syrian forces, arguing it was too one-sided.
The motion passed regardless, with 41 of the forum's 47 members voting in favour of the text, which said the perpetrators of the brutality had to be bought to justice.
Glamour and power
More than 8,000 people have died in the rebellion, according to UN figures, but Western powers have ruled out military intervention in such a sensitive part of the world, putting the emphasis instead on economic sanctions and diplomacy.
The new EU ban build on 12 previous rounds of sanctions aimed at isolating Assad, including an arms embargo and a ban on importing Syrian oil to the EU. At first sight they appear largely symbolic, but show the West is ready to broaden its net in its effort to isolate Assad.
A ex-investment banker, Assad's wife Asma cultivated the image of a glamorous yet serious-minded woman with Western values who was meant to humanise the isolated Assad family.