6 killed in Syria as EU agrees on sanctions, oil embargo

First time EU will target Syrian industry; analysts say sanctions may have only limited impact on Assad's access to funds; crackdown continues.

September 2, 2011 16:46
2 minute read.
Girl holds poster of Assad

Girl holds poster of Assad311. (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)

SOPOT, Poland - European Union governments agreed on Friday to ban imports of Syrian oil and extended sanctions to seven new Syrian individuals and entities to intensify pressure on President Bashar Assad's government who continued a violent crackdown on protesters, killing six people.

The United States, the EU and other Western powers want Assad to end a violent five-month-old crackdown on pro-democracy protesters that the United Nations says has killed 2,000 civilians. But Assad shows no sign of heeding their calls for him to step down.

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The EU has already banned Europeans from doing business with dozens of Syrian officials, government institutions and military-linked firms tied to the violence, but those measures seem to have had little influence on Assad's policy.

Friday's steps are the first time the EU has targeted Syrian industry and the key oil sector, but analysts say the sanctions, which do not go as far as the investment ban imposed by the United States last month, may have only a limited impact on Assad's access to funds.

"In view of the gravity of the situation in Syria, the Council today further tightened the EU's sanctions against that country," EU governments said in a statement.

"The prohibition concerns purchase, import and transport of oil and other petroleum products from Syria," they said.

Friday's decision also expanded the list of people and entities subject to EU travel bans and asset freezes by seven, including four individuals.

The measures goes into effect on Saturday. But Italy has won an exemption on existing contracts, which can be fulfilled until Nov. 15, underscoring divisions in Europe over energy sanctions which have slowed the implementation of economic measures against Assad.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said such delays blunted the impact of sanctions.

"I feel (it) is too late," he told reporters in the Polish resort of Sopot, where EU foreign ministers are holding policy discussions on Friday and Saturday. "If we are serious, we should take any steps we take immediately," he said.

Meanwhile Assad's violent crackdown on protesters continued on Friday.

Security forces killed at least six protesters when they fired at demonstrations that swelled across Syria on the first Friday after the month-long Ramadan fasting period, encouraged by increasing international pressure on Assad, activists and residents said.

The killings, they said, occurred in the Damascus suburbs of Irbin and Hamouriya, the eastern tribal province of Deir al-Zor, and rural Homs.

Demonstrators chanted slogans calling for international protection after five months of military and police assaults to crush street protests demanding an end to 41 years of Assad family rule, they added.

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