The European Union turned its sights on the Assad couple's high-end lifestyle Monday, banning the export of luxury goods as part of new sanctions to punish the regime's relentless violence.
In a 14th round of EU sanctions against Syria in a year, EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Luxembourg banned shipments of luxury items to Damascus and further restricted the sale of goods used to repress dissidents.
"The EU will continue its policy of imposing additional measures targeting the regime ... as long as repression continues," ministers said in a statement.
Russia, which has agreed to the presence of UN truce monitors, at the weekend condemned the idea of new EU sanctions.
But European ministers and diplomats said the new restrictive measures were a direct response to continuing violence in Syria, despite the presence of UN truce observers in the country.
"It is very important for us to keep up that pressure, step up that pressure," said British Foreign Secretary William Hague. "They are not in full compliance of the ceasefire requirements of the (Kofi) Annan plan."
Under a truce plan brokered by special envoy Kofi Annan, some 30 unarmed UN observers are expected in Syria in coming days ahead of the arrival of an expanded team of up to 300 monitors.
Despite a lull in the fighting in regions visited by the monitors, violence has continued elsewhere 11 days into the ceasefire, with Syrian troops killing 28 civilians in the central city of Hama on Monday, monitors said.
The United Nations has said that more than 9,000 people have died since the revolt against Assad's regime broke out in March last year.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the EU Foreign Ministers approved the new set of sanctions "because of deep concern about the situation and continuing violence in spite of the cease-fire."
"We call on the government to withdraw troops from towns and cities," she said after the meeting.
“We call once again on the opposition to make sure that they work towards a common inclusive opposition for Syria's future and as you probably know we have a mission on the ground in Syria today.”
There was a mixed response from EU ministers on Annan's chances of success.
"It is hard to be optimistic after everything that has happened in the last 13 months in Syria and the Syrian regime continues to fail to implement key aspects of the ceasefire," Hague told reporters.
"This is a regime that is continuing in some cases to kill, to abuse and that only implemented a ceasefire at the last possible moment," he added.
“We have welcomed the unanimous adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution and call for Kofi Annan's plan to be implemented immediately and in its entirety and we remain in close touch with Kofi Annan and his team,” Ashton said.
On the new sanctions, diplomats told AFP that the exact scope of the luxury goods affected would be defined in the next fortnight but that the ban was a symbolic blow at the high-end tastes of President Bashar al-Assad and his glamorous British-born wife Asma.
A luxury goods ban against North Korea in 2007 barred exports of fine foods such as caviar and truffles, as well as fine wines, designer accessories and thoroughbred horses.
The luxury ban "constitutes a loss of prestige for leading circles of the regime," said German Minister of State Michael Link.
Asked whether the EU was running out of sanctions, Hague said on leaving the talks that the sanctions "were obviously not as important an item financially as the ban on import of oil into the EU".
"But it shows our readiness to continue to intensify the sanctions," he said.
The EU a month ago tightened the noose on Assad's family, slapping a travel ban and asset freeze on his wife, mother and sister.
His immediate family were among 12 people and two oil companies added to an existing EU blacklist totalling 126 people and 41 firms or utilities.
The EU ban on luxury items appears to take direct aim at some of Syrian President Bashar Assad's most loyal supporters: the business community and prosperous merchant classes that are key to propping up the regime. An influential bloc, the business leaders have long traded political freedoms for economic privileges in Syria.
So far, the wealthy classes have stuck to the sidelines, but if the economic squeeze reaches them, it could be a game changer, analysts say.
Assad, who inherited power in 2000, spent years shifting the country away from the socialism espoused by his father. In the process, he helped boost a new and vibrant merchant class that transformed Syria's economic landscape even as the regime's political trappings remained unchanged.
Emails purportedly from Assad and his wife Asma, published in February by London's Guardian newspaper, indicated that the Syrian first lady has a taste for the finer things in life. The emails, whose authenticity has been questioned, revealed the first lady shopping online for crystal-encrusted Christian Louboutin stilettos, expensive jewelry, custom-made furniture and other luxury goods as violence swept the country.