Last updated: 17 April, 2013

EU mulls help to Syrian opposition by easing oil embargo

The European Union is considering a case-by-case easing of its oil embargo against Syria in order to help the opposition, diplomatic sources said Wednesday.

If formally agreed by EU foreign ministers at talks Monday in Luxembourg, the decision would enable EU companies to import oil on a case-by-case basis from areas under opposition control, the sources said.

It would also allow EU firms to resume investments and export of equipment intended for the oil and gas sector, diplomatic sources said under condition of anonymity.

The sources said that firms seeking to import Syrian oil or investment in the energy sector would have to ask for authorisation from their government, which in turn would confer with Syria’s opposition National Coalition to secure agreement.

The 27-nation bloc slapped a ban on investments in Syrian oil in September 2011, followed by a ban on imports of oil in December.

Syria’s largest oil reserves are in Deir Ezzor in the east of the country.

The country’s daily production of some 420,000 of barrels of oil has been sliced in half since the United States and the EU banned the import of Syrian petroleum.

EU foreign ministers are also expected next week to take a fresh look at whether to ease an existing arms embargo to enable support for Syria’s rebels, a question which has divided the 27-nation bloc.

The EU’s current package of far-reaching sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, which includes the arms embargo, will expire on May 31 failing a unanimous agreement to extend it, meaning governments must find a common position in the weeks ahead.

Led by Britain and France, the EU recently eased the arms embargo to allow the supply of “non-lethal” equipment as well as “technical assistance” — which includes training — to the rebels.

Britain immediately pledged armoured vehicles and protective clothing.

Diplomatic sources have said the embargo possibly could be amended again to allow the supply this time of “lethal” but “defensive” equipment.

But the West remains dubious over the fragmented Syrian opposition and suspicious of the links to al-Qaeda of some of the groups.