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21st Jul 2018

EU welcomes watered-down UN text on Syria

  • UNSC mural in New York. Human Rights Watch chief Ken Roth gave scant praise to the UNSC statement, saying it was 'better late than never' (Photo: United Nations Photo)

EU foreign ministers have welcomed a UN statement calling on "all sides" to stop violence in Syria. But US diplomats say European oil sanctions are needed to exert pressure on the regime.

The UN Security Council (UNSC) in a presidential statement published on Wednesday (3 August) "[called] for an immediate end to all violence and [urged] all sides to act with utmost restraint, and to refrain from reprisals, including attacks against state institutions."

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It also requested "the [UN] secretary general to update the security council on the situation in Syria within seven days."

The communique replaces a more weighty EU-sponsored draft UNSC resolution put forward two months ago. The failed EU text had called for a UN investigation into "crimes against humanity" perpetrated against "peaceful protesters."

EU foreign ministers hailed the UNSC statement despite its diluted language, designed to appease Syria's historic ally, Russia.

France's Alain Juppe said in a statement: "The council is sending an unambigious message to Damascus." The UK's William Hague noted: "The support for this statement throughout the security council demonstrates the rising international concern at the unacceptable behaviour of the regime." Sweden's Carl Bildt called it an "important step."

The move did nothing to stop killings in Syria, however.

Reports on Thursday morning say at least 45 people lost their lives in the town of Hama when Syrian tanks shelled civilian homes while soldiers posted on roads out of the city and snipers picked off individuals, including children.

Speaking in Congress on Tuesday, the US ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford, gave the lie to the UNSC hypothesis that the Syrian opposition is engaging in "reprisals."

"The most dangerous weapon [in the hands of protesters] I saw was a sling-shot," he said of his trip to Hama last month.

Ford added that the EU should impose oil sanctions on Syria if the international community wants to put real pressure on President Bashar Assad.

"Unilaterally, additional American measures probably aren't going to have that big of an impact ... The big companies working in the energy sector in Syria are from Europe or Syria's neighbours."

An open letter sent by 68 US senators to President Barack Obama on Wednesday backed Ford's position. "We ask that you engage with our European allies and European energy companies on ceasing the purchase of Syrian oil and investment in Syria's oil and gas sectors, and that you work to encourage the European Union to sanction the Commercial Bank of Syria," it said.

The only pro-oil-sanction call in Brussels has so far come from the Liberal group in the EU parliament.

Liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt on Tuesday said in a press release that: "listing ... the two state-owned oil companies Syria Petroleum Corporation and Sytrol would significantly deprive the regime of its daily revenues, since 90 percent of Syrian oil exports are exported to the EU - and market conditions do not favour easy substitution of other arrangements."

The EU has so far imposed travel bans and asset freezes on 35 Syrian regime members and four defence-related Syrian companies.

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