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EU lifts Syria oil embargo to bolster rebels

LUXEMBOURG — The European Union on Monday lifted its oil embargo on Syria to provide more economic support to the forces fighting to oust President Bashar Assad’s regime.

The decision will allow for crude exports from rebel-held territory, the import of oil and gas production technology, and investments in the Syrian oil industry, the EU said in a statement.

Any export or investment initiatives will be taken in close coordination with the leaders of the Syrian opposition, the bloc’s 27 foreign ministers decided at a meeting in Luxembourg.

The move marks the first relaxing of EU sanctions on Syria in two years as governments try to help ease shortages of vital supplies in areas held by the opposition in the civil war-struck Arab state.

“We wish for good economic development in the areas controlled by the opposition, therefore we lift the sanctions that hinder the moderate opposition forces’ work,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said ahead of the meeting.

The oil exports could open an important revenue stream for Syria’s opposition, even though it is still unclear when and how much crude could be exported.

EU officials hinted the move was in part aimed at laying the legal groundwork to get investment and crude flowing rapidly as soon as the security situation on the ground improves.

“The security situation is so difficult that much of this will be difficult to do, but it is important for us to send the signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.

While Syria was never one of the world’s major oil exporters, the sector was a pillar of Syria’s economy until the uprising, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels a day and exports — almost exclusively to Europe — bringing in more than $3 billion in 2010. Oil revenues provided around a quarter of the funds for the national budget.

Being able to take advantage of the country’s oil resources will help the Syrian uprising “big time,” said Osama Kadi, a senior member of the Syrian opposition.

While the security situation remains a challenge, getting the oil flowing will be a top priority for the Syrian interim government expected to be formed by the end of the month, added Kadi, who is an economic adviser to the opposition Syrian National Coalition.

“We are really hoping that Turkish companies will help in terms of importing and exporting the oil, because we need some refineries to get our diesel to run all our generators, to run our hospitals, and we need diesel in large amounts,” he said in Istanbul.



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