Ambassadors from the 27 EU governments are meeting in Brussels today (29 April) to discuss ways of raising the pressure on the regime of Bashar al-Assad, with Britain, France, and Germany pushing for tough measures if the violence continues.

Ambassadors will consider imposing sanctions on the Syrian leadership for the first time, including an asset freeze, travel bans and an arms embargo. 

The sanctions are being discussed amid increasing pressure on the Syrian regime to halt the bloody crackdown on anti-government protesters, which is now believed to have claimed at least 500 lives.

Hundreds of members of President Bashar al-Assad's Ba'ath party have resigned in protest against the repression.

Figures that would be targeted by the EU sanctions would include the president's "extended family" and other key officials in the military and security apparatus, according to diplomats in Brussels.

Syria could also be facing a suspension of EU aid worth €130 million and a freeze on €1.3 billion in funds from the European Investment Bank.

"The situation has become unacceptable," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy after a bilateral summit with Italy on Tuesday (26 April).

"Together we send a strong call to Damascus authorities to stop the violent repression of what are peaceful demonstrations and we ask all sides to act with moderation," Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said at a joint news conference in Rome.

Earlier on Monday (25 April), Britain, France, Germany and Portugal asked the UN Security Council to condemn the violence of Syria's violent crackdown against protesters. There was no move to discuss the possibility of UN sanctions against Syria at the moment, one diplomat said.

Other EU countries such as Austria and Sweden are more lukewarm towards the idea of imposing sanctions, saying they are not always efficient.