Sunday

23rd Feb 2020

EU admits oil aid to Syria rebels will do little to help

  • Syria conflict: daily reports of massacres, more than 70,000 dead, almost 5 million refugees (Photo: FreedomHouse2)

EU countries have agreed to start buying oil from Syrian rebels in a largely symbolic move designed to give moral support.

The decision, which entered into force on Tuesday (23 April), allows EU governments to buy crude oil and petrol and to supply the equipment and financial assistance needed to get it out of the country.

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Under a control mechanism, governments must consult the rebellion's political wing, the Syrian National Coalition, before going ahead and must ensure transactions do not benefit any of the 179 regime people or 53 regime-linked companies on an EU blacklist.

According to an official text, the EU decision is aimed at "helping the Syrian civilian population, in particular to meeting humanitarian concerns, restoring normal life, upholding basic services, reconstruction, and restoring normal economic activity."

British foreign minister William Hague told press in Luxembourg on Monday it will be hard to restore trade in practice, however.

"Of course, the security situation in Syria is so difficult that much of that will be difficult to do. But it's important to send a signal that we are willing to help," he said.

The UK is already supplying rebels with body armour, bullet-proof vehicles and communications equipment.

Hague said he is also keen to send in weapons, with EU talks on relaxing an arms embargo to continue in May.

Nato countries' foreign ministers will in Brussels on Tuesday also discuss Syria.

But a Nato source told EUobserver there is no prospect of going beyond its current intervention - the installation of an anti-missile system on the Syria-Turkey border - for the time being.

"The world has failed in its response to Syria," the UK's Hague added on Monday.

"We have evidence that Syria is using cluster bombs against its people, that it is firing scud missiles indiscriminately. We find some of the recent reports on the use of chemical weapons on a localised basis to be credible - this is a barbaric way of conducting any conflict," he said.

Some countries in the Arab League are already supplying guns.

But EU countries opposed to the weapons move, such as Denmark, reiterated warnings on Monday that guns could get into the wrong hands.

The main rebel group, the secularist Free Syrian Army, is the potential recipient of British or French weapons.

But the two-year-long civil war has seen a proliferation of rebel groups, some of which, such as the Islamist Jabhat al-Nusra, are considered by the West to be too dangerous to support.

Another rebel group calling itself the Omar al-Farouq Brigade shelled villages in Lebanon on 14 April, killing two civilians, after accusing Hezbollah, a Lebanese paramilitary force allied with Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, of sending fighters into Syria.

EU aid commissioner Kristalina Georgieva also told Reuters on Monday it is unclear who is behind kidnappings "on a regular basis" of aid workers.

But she said some rebels shoot at humanitarian convoys coming in from Turkey.

For its part, Russia - al-Assad's main ally in the wider world - criticised the EU's oil purchase move.

"We proceed from the fact that there is a legitimate government in Syria until a new election is held … That is why we believe such unilateral actions are out of line with the principles of international law," its deputy foreign minister, Mikhail Bogdanov, told press in Moscow on Monday.

"This leads the situation to a deeper deadlock and does not contribute to a political solution of the problems," he added.

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