Middle East

Damascus sees EU plan to buy rebel oil as act of aggression

A picture taken on April 15, 2013 shows a Syrian man in the Al Raqqa countryside, who until three months ago was a farmer. (AFP PHOTO/ALICE MARTINS)

DAMASCUS: An EU plan to buy oil from rebel-held areas of Syria is illegal and an “act of aggression,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry warned Tuesday in letters to the United Nations.

“In an unprecedented decision that contradicts international law and the U.N. Charter ... the European Union has decided to allow member states to import [petroleum] ... under the pretext of supporting the opposition,” state news agency SANA reported, citing the letters.

“It is an illegal decision and an act of aggression.”

Syrian rebels fighting President President Bashar Assad’s troops won a fresh boost Monday when the European Union eased its oil embargo to let them exploit the resources they control.

But the decision raised a furious response in Damascus.

The EU will be trading “with the so-called opposition Coalition, which represents no one in Syria,” the letters to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council said.

The decision is an act of “complicity in the theft of resources that belong to the Syrian people, represented by the current, legitimate government,” they added.

“The European Union is following its political and economic campaign that targets the national economy and the daily bread of Syrian citizens,” the ministry added, referring to EU sanctions on the Assad regime.

EU ministers’ decision to ease the 2011 oil embargo will enable firms on a case-by-case basis not only to import Syrian oil but also to export production technology and investment cash to areas in the hands of the opposition.

Under the deal, European firms seeking to import Syrian crude or invest in the energy sector would ask for authorization from their government, which in turn would confer with Syria’s opposition National Coalition to secure its agreement.

At the start of the revolt that broke out in March 2011, Syria’s oil production was slashed by almost two-thirds to 130,000 barrels a day in March, just 0.1 percent of the world’s total production, according to the International Energy Agency’s latest estimates.

The European Union is nonetheless concerned that most oil fields in Deir al-Zor in the east and Hasake in the northeast are controlled by Nusra Front, whose leadership has pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 24, 2013, on page 8.




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