BRUSSELS - The European Union's plan to ease an oil embargo to help Syrian rebels is a "pragmatic experiment" that could lead to further lifting of sanctions to tilt the balance of the conflict against President Bashar Assad, a senior EU official said on Friday.
Next week, EU governments will allow purchases of oil from the opposition, as part of a broader effort to help rebels waging a two-year uprising against Assad in which an estimated 70,000 people have died. The conflict is broadly in stalemate.The rebels have complained to the United Nations bodies, the official said, that sanctions - imposed in response to Assad's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests - are hurting civilians and asked for wide-ranging economic help.
"This is a response to strong criticism that our sanctions are blindly hitting the regime but also the civilian population. This wasn't our intention," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
More sanctions relief would be in store if the easing of the oil embargo is successful, he said. "If it works, we may try to go further. This is a bit of a pragmatic experiment."