`EU studying tougher Syria sanctions`

The EU may decide in the next week or two to broaden its sanctions against the Syrian regime.

Amsterdam: The European Union may decide in the next week or two to broaden its sanctions against the Syrian regime and state-run businesses, stepping up the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad to end the crackdown on anti-government protesters, the Dutch Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal has been lobbying his colleagues to expand the EU travel ban on Syrian officials — which now covers 35 people, including Assad — and to target Syria`s telecommunications, banking and energy sectors. Syria gets about 28 percent of its revenue from the oil trade.

"We need to cut off the oxygen from the regime through its profitable public enterprises," Rosenthal said on the ministry`s Web site, amid reports of renewed clashes on Friday between demonstrators and Syrian troops.

A decision on a list of measures could be made by ambassadors to the EU, or it may await an informal ministerial meeting scheduled for September 02 in Poland, said ministry spokesman Ward Bezemer.

Britain, France and Germany were likely to support tightening the squeeze on Damascus.

The EU decided on August 01 to freeze Syrian assets and to blacklist a list of regime figures and four entities. On Wednesday, the United States included Syria`s main commercial bank and mobile phone operator on its list of sanctioned enterprises.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appealed for other nations, including the EU, India and China, to ramp up the pressure.

"We`ve issued more sanctions, tougher sanctions. We`re working with our European and other friends. But what we really need to do to put the pressure on Assad is to sanction the oil and gas industry, and we want to see Europe take more steps in that direction," she said in a CBS interview on Thursday.

"And we want to see China take steps with us. We want to see India, because India and China have large energy investments inside of Syria. We want to see Russia cease selling arms to the Assad regime," she said.

In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Hillary’s call for oil sanctions was being examined, and "at first sight there is a great deal of agreement”.

The EU has been reluctant to restrict Syrian oil and gas exports for fear that shortages might hit the Syrian public and small businesses. Syria`s export market is mainly France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands.

"Part of a political solution is that the pressure on the regime not let off, that it be strengthened," Westerwelle said after meeting Egypt`s Foreign Minister Mohammed Amr.

Mirroring the careful language of US diplomacy, Westerwelle said Syria would be better off without Assad as its president, but did not directly call on him to resign. "Of course the Syrian people must decide itself who governs it, but I don`t think, in view of the repression, that there can still be a future for President Assad that is supported by the Syrian people," he said.

The Egyptian minister called on the Syrian regime to end the bloodshed and open negotiations with the demonstrators.

In an apparent reference to Egypt`s own revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak this year, Amr said, "Our experience tells us that when the people want their freedom, that is the normal way, the natural way; you can`t stop history."

Assad has so far brushed aside appeals to end the violence from foreign diplomats who travelled to Damascus this week, including Turkey`s foreign minister and envoys from India, Brazil and South Africa. The Arab League has called for an immediate halt to the bloodshed, and Saudi Arabia recalled its ambassador from Damascus to signal its displeasure.

Rosenthal spoke with the head of the Arab League on Wednesday to urge the imposition of practical steps against Syria, and met on Thursday in The Hague with Haitham al-Maleh, one of Syria`s most prominent dissidents.

Human rights groups say about 1,700 civilians have been killed in the upheavals since mid-March.

Bureau Report

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