BEIRUT (Reuters) - The Arab League has proposed a travel ban on 17 Syrians from President Bashar al-Assad’s inner circle and intelligence agencies seen as the driving force of the government’s crackdown on an eight-month revolt against the government.
Prominent military figures and businessman Rami Makhlouf appeared on the ban. Many of the lesser known names on the list were previously blacklisted this year by the European Union on charges of acting as leading figures in “shabiha,” the shadowy groups of armed men which often participate in the crackdown.
Shabiha are mostly made up members of the Assad family’s minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, which Syria’s Sunni majority complains dominate the country, particularly in the military.
The Arab League suspended Syria’s membership last month for its inability to stem bloodshed in the unrest, which United Nations says has left more than 4,000 people dead.
Top personalities not featured on the list are President Assad himself and his foreign minister, Walid al-Moualem, which may be to allow them to make international appearances or to leave room for them to leave power and seek asylum abroad.
The Arab League will present the names as well as other recommendations to a Qatari-led group of Arab ministers, who are handling issues regarding Syria, at a Saturday meeting in Doha.
Here are some facts about the most prominent names on the Arab League’s new travel ban list:
MAHER HAFEZ AL-ASSAD
* Commander of the Republican Guard, Maher is second only to his brother Bashar al-Assad in power. He controls the Presidential Guard and the Fourth Armoured Division, units which form the state’s security backbone.
* The 4th Division has been moved around Syria to quell pockets of revolt, cracking down on protesters and clashing with army defectors who say they are protecting the uprising.
* Andrew Terrill, research professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Army War college and a specialist in Syrian military affairs, said of Maher:
“Some observers consider (him) to be excessively violent and emotionally volatile. It appears that President Assad views his brother as totally trustworthy.”
* Diplomats say Maher shot his brother-in-law Assef Shawkat, deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, in the stomach during an argument in 1999. Shawkat was reportedly flown to France for treatment and survived.
* Maher was named in a preliminary U.N. report investigating the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri as one of the people who may have been behind the killing. Syrian denies any role in the assassination.
* Assad’s influential cousin who was a close friend and confidante to the president, Makhlouf has long been accused of corrupt business practices and has been sanctioned by several countries this year on charges of bankrolling the government.
* The tycoon left his prominent role in the Syrian business scene in June. He was a hated figure for protesters: “Go Away Makhlouf. We don’t want thieves,” protesters would shout.
* Before announcing a move to charity work, Makhlouf owned one of the country’s largest mobile phone companies, Syriatel, and several large firms in the construction and oil sectors.
* Makhlouf is the son of Mohammed Makhlouf who also amassed a fortune under Hafez al-Assad’s rule and still plays a large role in managing the Makhlouf fortune. Hours after the Arab League blacklisted Rami, Mohammed Makhlouf was added to the U.S. sanctions list.
* In 2008, the United States imposed sanctions on Rami Makhlouf as a figure who “improperly benefits from and aids the public corruption of Syrian regime officials.”
* Makhlouf has insisted his businesses are legitimate and provide professional employment for thousands of Syrians.
* Former head of military intelligence, now deputy chief-of-staff of the armed forces. Born in the port city of Tartous and married to Assad’s sister. The two eloped in 1995.
* Although an Alawite, Shawkat’s relationship with Bushra was rejected by some in the Assad family due to his inferior status, but he rose quickly to power and was once considered one of the most powerful members in government.
* Shawkat has been sidelined in recent years, and the extent of his influence now is unclear.
* Shawkat was among the Syrians named in the preliminary U.N. report which implicated him in Hariri’s killing.
* The United States imposed sanctions on him in 2006, following the Hariri assassination. At the time, Shawkat was head of military intelligence and Syria had not yet ended its 29-year military presence in Lebanon.
“Shawkat has been a key architect of Syria’s domination of Lebanon, as well as a fundamental contributor to Syria’s long-standing policy to foment terrorism against Israel,” the U.S. Treasury said, when sanctions were imposed.
* The head of Syria’s military intelligence for its rural Damascus branch, Ghazali was blacklisted by the EU this year.
* A Sunni Muslim born in 1953 in Deraa, the cradle of Syria’s uprising, Ghazali was sent to his hometown to try to calm unrest. The EU accused him of participating in repressing dissent.
* Ghazali was the head of Syria’s military intelligence in Lebanon when the statesman Rafik al-Hariri was killed in a 2005 car bombing. Syria, which had a military presence in Lebanon since its civil war, withdrew from Lebanon under international pressure after Hariri’s death, which many blamed on Damascus.
* Washington froze Ghazali’s assets after Hariri’s death and
accused the general of manipulating Lebanese government postings and policies benefited Syrian interests.
* The U.N.-backed court investigating and running a trial for Hariri’s assassination and questioned Ghazali over the killing.
* A cousin and childhood friend of Bashar al-Assad and brother of tycoon Rami Makhlouf, he is an army colonel and head of the Damascus branch of the General Security Directorate — the largest civilian intelligence service in Syria.
* In 2007, Washington froze his assets. Hafez was designated in those U.S. sanctions as “furthering the Syrian regime’s efforts to undermine Lebanese democracy.”
* The EU imposed sanctions on him in May 2011, charging him with participating in violence against demonstrators in his role as a senior intelligence official in Damascus.
* The United States placed new sanctions on him later in May, accusing him of a leading role in the crackdown on protesters
* The Alawite brigadier general was the head of the Political Security Directorate for Deraa, a majority Sunni area, during March 2011 when protests first erupted and security forces killed several protesters.
* Najib, cousin of President Assad, was previously placed under U.S. and EU sanctions this year.
* Activists accuse Najib of involvement in the arrests of several children whose detention set off the original protests in Deraa.
* The head of military intelligence, formerly head of air force intelligence, the agency’s prime prerogative is to ensure the loyalty of the army and in countering foreign espionage.
* The EU sanctioned Qudsiyeh in May, charging him with involvement in “repression against the civilian population”
* The new defence minister, 64-year-old Rajha is an Orthodox Greek Christian, though most of the military power in Syria remains in the hands of the Alawites.
* Rahja replaced former minister Ali Habib Mahmoud in August. Mahmoud was earlier placed on EU sanctions.
MOHAMMED IBRAHIM AL-SHAAR
* Before his recent appointment as interior minister, Shaar was commander of military police and was placed under EU sanctions earlier this year.
Reporting by Erika Solomon and Laila Bassam