The Minister for Foreign Affairs has said contracts between Irish aircraft leasing companies and the Belarusian national carrier will be hit by a fresh round of sanctions agreed by European Union foreign ministers against the Lukashenko regime.

Simon Coveney said Ireland had supported a fifth round of sanctions against the regime for allegedly flying thousands of Middle Eastern and African migrants to Minsk and then sending them to the border with Poland, where thousands are now massing.

"There was a very clear outcome today," he said.

"There is a fifth package of sanctions that are going to be imposed now on Belarus in response to what they're doing, which is the extremely cynical use of migrants to try to create tension with the European Union, but also putting very vulnerable migrants at risk.

"The strong view today was that the EU needed to act and go beyond where we've gone to date, which is to introduce a new round of sanctions, which the Irish government not only supported, but co-sponsored."

It is understood that 17 of 30 planes operated by Belavia are leased from Irish aircraft leasing companies.

The EU sanctions will target airlines, travel companies and hotels, and other parts of the chain which has allegedly been used to ferry migrants to Minsk and on to the EU's external frontier.

"Obviously that has a consequence for us. But it's absolutely the right thing to do. And those planes now, the contracts under which they are leased to Belavia will essentially be cut, and those planes will either have to be returned or, or I presume legal action will be taken," Mr Coveney said after a meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels.

He said the EU was attempting to put as much pressure on the Lukashenko regime as possible.

"Sanctions don't generally work immediately," he said. "It tends to take time to build pressure. And the more Lukashenko and his regime are isolated internationally, the more it costs his friends to support him.

"We of course have to get the balance right between supporting the Belarusian people, where we can in terms of support, and at the same time targeting a regime which has become a dictatorship, and has not allowed its own country to to move on a democratic path."

The Minister for European Affairs said he believed the EU sanctions are already starting to have an impact.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime,Thomas Byrne said: "If aircraft are being used, and we know that they are, to bring people into Belarus to push them into the European Union to literally push them in, that can't be allowed to happen."

Meanwhile, the United States has said it is preparing new sanctions targeting the government in Belarus, in coordination with the EU, over the "inhumane facilitation" of migrant flows on its border with Poland.

State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters the sanctions would "continue to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its ongoing attacks on democracy and human rights and international norms."

Migrants have tried to force makeshift fences in several places in recent days

Belarus has denounced as "absurd" Western accusations that it is driving the migrant crisis that has left up to 4,000 people stranded in freezing forests on its border with Poland.

EU foreign ministers said that Belarus is pushing migrants towards the bloc in revenge for earlier sanctions over a crackdown on protests last year against veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko's contested re-election.

Migrants - mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan - began appearing on Belarus' land borders with the EU this year, trying to cross into member states Lithuania, Latvia and Poland via routes not used before.

"This inhumane system of using refugees as tools to exert pressure on the European Union ... has got worse over the last days," said Germany's foreign minister Heiko Maas.

"We will toughen sanctions on individuals who are involved in this human trafficking, and we will have to talk about the fact that severe economic sanctions are inevitable."

The unanimous political agreement among EU countries must be worked out in detail before specific new sanctions come into force.

Stranded on the Belarusian side of the border and increasingly desperate, migrants have tried to force makeshift fences in several places in recent days.

Poland has reported 5,100 irregular attempts to cross the border so far in November.

Latvia has said it has deployed 3,000 troops for a previously unannounced military exercise near the border.

It, Lithuania and Poland make up the eastern flank of the EU and NATO, the paramount Western military alliance.

Top EU diplomat Josep Borrell said the new package of sanctions would target airlines and travel agencies involved in "this illegal push of migrants".

Middle East travel agencies working together with operators in Belarus provided tourist visas to thousands of people in recent months, a Reuters investigation revealed.

The EU has said it is looking into whether other airlines should face sanctions after the bloc banned Belarus' state-owned carrier Belavia from its skies and airports. Mr Maas stressed Turkish Airlines had stayed away.

The Belarusian foreign ministry dismissed as "absurd" accusations that Minsk had engineered the migrant crisis, according to Russian state news agency RIA.

Mr Lukashenko said Belarus was trying to convince migrants to go home. "But nobody wants to go back," he said, according to Belarus' state news agency Belta. Minsk would retaliate against any new EU sanctions, he was quoted as saying.

The EU has been stepping up sanctions on Belarus for months. Curbs already in place include blacklisting of Mr Lukashenko, his son and 165 other Belarusian officials, as well as restrictions on trade in potash - an important export.

The EU called on Mr Lukashenko's most powerful ally, Russian President Vladimir Putin, to put pressure on Minsk to stop risking people's lives in a geopolitical tug-of-war.

"It is obvious what Lukashenko's regime and its allies want - to test unity of the Western world," said Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda.

Lithuania has said some migrants are flying to Belarus via Moscow, and wants the EU to "make the Minsk airport a no-fly-zone," according to Lithuanian foreign minister.

Migrants gather on the Belarusian-Polish border near the Polish border crossing in Kuznica

The Kremlin said it was ready to mediate between Belarus and the EU, that Mr Putin would talk to Mr Lukashenko, and Moscow had no plans to reroute gas flows away from Belarus despite Minsk threatening to cut transit to Europe through the Yamal pipeline.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also dismissed as "wrong" a US State Department statement that the Belarus border crisis was meant to distract attention from increased Russian military activity close to Ukraine.

Mr Peskov said Russia was already acting as an intermediary while the EU's chief executive said coming days would be decisive.

At least eight people have died along the 200km-long land border between Poland and Belarus, including from cold and exhaustion.

The sparsely populated area of lakes, swamps and forests is becoming even more hostile to people trying to keep warm around bonfires through the cold November nights.

Polish border guards have said several hundred people have gathered on the Belarusian side of a closed border crossing point in Kuznica and might try to get into Poland.

Mr Maas and Mr Borrell have urged Warsaw to allow humanitarian aid on the frontier, where Poland has deployed some 20,000 police, border guards and soldiers.

Poland's nationalist government has also come under criticism from rights activists for seeking to cut off all the migrants without giving individuals a chance to claim asylum.

Eastern EU states Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia have warned of a risk of military conflict.

Their presidents and Poland's Andrzej Duda have said Mr Lukashenko should be held accountable for human trafficking.

Poland and Lithuania are considering requesting NATO consultations on the situation under the military alliances' collective security provisions.

Addtional reporting: Reuters & AFP