Thursday 14 December 2017

US calls for boycott on Syrian oil to hurt regime

Pressure mounts on Assad to step down as 11 are killed in clashes

Khalid Ali in Syria

THE Obama administration has urged governments to stop buying Syrian oil, in an attempt to cripple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

At a meeting with Norway's foreign minister last Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ramped up the US's rhetoric by encouraging the world to "get on the right side of history".

"President Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead and it is clear Syria would be better off without him," she said after the meeting in Washington.

Oil receipts account for about a third of the Syrian government's revenues. A third of the regime's oil is refined by European nations, and any decision by EU leaders to halt imports would seriously weaken Syria's economy.

Since the regime began its bloody crackdown against the protest movement, American and European leaders have issued sanctions against Mr Assad and his inner circle. But analysts have repeatedly said targeting energy reserves would be the most effective way to hurt Syria's president.

The Dutch foreign minister also said the EU could decide to extend its sanctions against Mr Assad. Uri Rosenthal has been lobbying other European leaders to broaden sanctions to include the telecommunications, banking and energy sectors. Ms Clinton's call to target the Syrian economy will heap yet further pressure on Damascus, coming just a few days after Arab leaders began to turn their backs on Mr Assad. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait all announced earlier last week that they would withdraw their ambassadors from Syria.

Joshua Landis, who runs the Syria Comment news website, said the White House policy on Syria revolved around trying to "herd cats", roping as many unwilling countries as possible into taking action. He said: "They don't want to get in front on this. They are trying to get the Europeans and regional powers to make orchestrated statements to say: 'It's over.'"

Ms Clinton's appeal came on a day that demonstrators again poured onto the streets across Syria to demand the end of Mr Assad's government. In spite of brutal army operations launched at the beginning of Ramadan, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through towns and cities demanding his ousting -- and even execution.

At least 11 people were killed, including five from the suburbs of Damascus, one in the central city of Homs, and another in Hama, which the government claimed it had brought under its control last week after tanks and troops stormed the city on August 1.

Another protester was reported dead in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, which itself was subjected to heavy shelling and machine gun.

"There are security checkpoints every 200 metres -- they have lists and they're searching people. Mosques are surrounded by soldiers," a Hama-based activist said.

A statement from the Local Co-ordination Committees, which monitors the protest movements across Syria, said pro-government militiamen in the Damascus suburbs had fired on a funeral procession.

"Five people were killed by bullets of the security forces, one of them is a 16-year-old child," the organisation said.

Sunday Independent

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