EU tightens sanctions on Syria
Bans in energy and financial sectors come as Damascus responds by suspending participation in the Mediterranean Union.
The European Union has tightened sanctions against Syria’s energy and financial sectors in response to President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on dissidents, diplomats said.
“The EU reiterates its condemnation in the stronget terms of the brutal crackdown by the Syrian government which risks taking Syria down a very dangerous path of violence, sectarian clashes and militarisation,” the foreign ministers said in a statement during talks in Brussels on Thursday.
In response, Syria suspended its participation in the Mediterranean Union, Syrian state media said.
“Syria is suspending its membership in the Mediterranean Union in response to European measures taken against it,” a statement carried by the official SANA news agency said.
The Mediterranean Union, an initiative of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, was inaugurated in 2008 to bolster cooperation between Europe, the Middle East and north Africa.
EU ministers said they decided to implement “further restrictive measures targeting the regime’s ability to conduct its brutal repression”.
The sanctions target “the energy, financial, banking and trade sectors and include the listing of additional individuals and entities that are involved in the violence or directly supporting the regime”.
Diplomats said the measures include bans on exporting gas and oil industry equipment to Syria, trading Syrian government bonds and selling software that could be used to monitor Internet and telephone communications.
They also added that 12 more individuals and 11 more entities to a blacklist of people and companies hit by assets freezes and travel bans over the government’s crackdown on protesters.
The list of names will become public as early as Friday and while details were not immediately available, diplomats have said Syrian state oil company General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) would be among those targeted.
Meanwhile, the Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi has rejected on Thursday any foreign intervention in Syria as he joined European Union talks aimed at ramping up pressure on Damascus.
“We reject any accusation that the Arab League is inviting any intervention,” Arabi said.
“Every decision taken by the Arab League rejects an intervention,” he added, days after the pan-Arabic body imposed its own unprecedented sanctions against Assad’s government.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem had accused this week “some League members” of “pushing to internationalise the conflict”.
On the ground in Syria, the international criticism seemed to have little effect as violence continued.
The Local Co-ordination Committees activist network reported on Thursday that at least 14 people were killed across the country, including one child. Most of the dead were in the central province of Hama.
In a separate development, a member of the Syrian National Council (SNC), the country’s main political oppostion bloc, said that the council and Syrian army deserters have agreed to coordinate their struggle against Assad’s rule.
The first meeting between the SNC and the Free Syrian Army earlier this week in Turkey appeared to mark a change of tack from the SNC’s previous reluctance to back the armed struggle.
“It is agreed that it would be a coordinated movement, there would be coordination,” the SNC’s Khaled Khoja told AFP news agency
“The council recognised the Free Syrian Army as a reality, while the army recognised the council as the political representative” of the opposition.”
He did not specify how organic the links between the two movements would be but the meeting marked a new step in efforts to unite opposition to Assad.
On Wednesday, the world’s largest Islamic body urged Syria to “immediately stop using excessive force” against citizens, to avert the threat of foreign intervention.
The Organisation of Islamic Co-operation (OIC) also urged Syria to co-operate with the Arab League, which has imposed unprecedented sanctions on Damascus.
In a statement released after the group’s meeting in Saudi Arabia, the OIC urged “all parties in Syria to renounce violence and resort to peaceful means”.
Separately, an Arab League committee overseeing the sanctions has listed 17 people banned from travel to Arab states, including President Bashar al-Assad’s brother, Maher, Egypt’s state news agency said on Thursday.
The list also included the defence and interior ministers, intelligence officials and senior military officers.
The committee recommended stopping flights to and from Syria starting mid-December and also recommended exempting wheat, medicine, gas and electricity from the ban on trade with Syria’s government, the agency reported.
Further tightening regional pressure, Turkey has said it will suspend all financial dealings with Syria and freeze the assets of Assad’s government.
Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister, said on Wednesday that Assad’s government had come “to the end of the road”.
He said Turkey will block the delivery of all weapons and military equipment to Syria.
“Every bullet fired, every bombed mosque has eliminated the legitimacy of the Syrian leadership and has widened the gap between us,” Davutoglu said. “Syria has squandered the last chance that it was given.”
Syria’s government has said the Arab League declared an “economic war” when it decided to impose sanctions.
Adnan Mahmoud, the country’s information minister, said the cabinet looked at several measure to cope with the impact of sanctions.
He said Syrians should not fear shortages in basic commodities.
“The government reiterates its commitment to secure the provision of the needs of Syrian citizens with the existence of self-sufficiency and a strategic stockpile of basic commodities and food, which should assure the people and push away their fears of lacking any commodity from the markets,” he said.
Mahmoud said Syria would also look to “friendly” markets that are not affected by the “American and Western” policies.