US Treasury, Arab League and EU sanction Syria

US bans two companies, firms; EU adds 11 individuals, entities to sanctions list; Arab League bans Syrian VIPs from travel.

Protesters against Syrian President Bashar Assad 311 (R) (photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
Protesters against Syrian President Bashar Assad 311 (R)
(photo credit: Osman Orsal / Reuters)
The US Treasury Department on Thursday imposed sanctions against two Syrian officials and two firms, the Arab League put Syrian VIPs on a travel ban list on Thursday and European Union foreign ministers approved a raft of economic sanctions against President Bashar Assad to press him into stopping a military crackdown on popular protests.
Syria's crisis erupted in March with street unrest inspired by anti-authoritarian revolts elsewhere in the Arab world. But driven by Assad's iron fist policy towards civilian protesters, Syria may be sliding towards civil war as some soldiers and officers defect with their weapons to fight loyalist troops.
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Treasury blacklisted Muhammad Makhluf, an uncle of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, and Aus Asla who was described as a general in the Syrian military and said Americans are banned from any dealings with them.
It also named the Military Housing Establishment as a Syrian government-controlled company that provides financing to the regime and Real Estate Bank, which Treasury said handles borrowing for the government. Americans are prohibited from any dealings with the firms.
Treasury said it was critical to escalate pressure against the Syrian government to stop the use of brutal tactics against pro-democracy protesters.
An Arab League committee meeting in Cairo listed 17 people banned from travel to Arab states, including Assad's brother Maher who commands the military's elite Republican Guard and is Syria's second most powerful man.
The Egyptian state news agency said the draft blacklist in a sanctions policy adopted at the weekend by 19 of the League's 22 members includes the defense and interior ministers, intelligence officials and senior military officers.
Iraq and Lebanon, neighbors of Syria who have sensitive sectarian, strategic and trade relationships with Damascus, declined to join the League's sanctions campaign.
The Arab League committee charged with overseeing sanctions also recommended stopping flights to and from Syria starting in mid-December. But it said sales of wheat, medicine, gas and electricity should be exempted from the embargo.
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The sanctions package was due to be finalized by Saturday.
In Brussels, European Union governments agreed to ratchet up pressure on Syria by adding 11 entities and 12 people to its sanctions list, an EU official said.
The list of names will become public as early as Friday and while details were not immediately available, diplomats have said that Syrian state oil company General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) would be among those targeted.
Oil majors such as Royal Dutch Shell and France's Total could see their Syrian ventures grind to a halt as the GPC joins the roster of sanctioned companies, diplomatic sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
Already blacklisted by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, GPC is responsible for supervising joint venture companies in Syria. Royal Dutch Shell and China National Petroleum Corporation are both partners of GPC through the Al-Furat joint venture.
Some diplomatic sources said the blacklisting would likely make it hard for European oil firms to keep operating in Syria.
"GPC would be designated, which would force European companies that are there to declare 'force majeure' (bowing to an event they could not anticipate or control)," said one of the European diplomatic sources.
Syrian oil comprises less than 1 percent of daily world output but represents a big chunk of Syrian government earnings.
The further tightening of sanctions may be a reaction to evidence that Syria has resumed exporting crude oil after an early bout of sanctions on European imports forced a temporary pause in oil flows.
Oil majors Shell and Total as well as the UK's Gulfsands have investments in Syria and have been forced to cut output in the country for lack of storage capacity.