Sunday, February 18, 2018

EU threatens new sanctions on Syria

BEIRUT, Lebanon — The European Union will impose harsher sanctions on Syria, a senior EU official said Wednesday, as Russia tried to broker talks between the vice president and the opposition to calm violence. Activists reported at least 50 killed in the regime's siege of Homs.

Russia, a close ally of Syria, and the West are pushing down starkly different paths in trying to deal with Syria's nearly 11 months of bloodshed. After blocking a Western and Arab attempt to bring U.N. pressure on President Bashar Assad to step down, Russia has launched a bid to show it can resolve the turmoil.

Moscow is calling for a combination of reforms by the regime and negotiations, without calling for Assad to go. Its provisions are finding no traction with the opposition, which dismisses promises of reform as empty gestures, refuses any negotiations while violence continues and says Assad's removal is the only option.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said outside forces should let Syrians settle their conflict "independently."

"We should not act like a bull in a china shop," Putin said, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency. "We have to give people a chance to make decisions about their destiny independently."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, who met with Assad Tuesday in Damascus, said the Syrian president delegated to his vice president, Farouk al-Sharaa, responsibility for holding a dialogue with the opposition. Lavrov blamed both Assad's regime and opposition forces for instigating the violence, which the United Nations says has killed well over 5,400 people.

In Brussels, a senior EU official said the 27-nation bloc will soon impose harsher sanctions against Syria that may include bans on the import of Syrian phosphates, on commercial flights between Syria and Europe, and on financial transactions with the country's central bank. The European Union imports 40 percent of Syria's phosphate exports.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters that the Arab League planned to send observers back to Syria and had asked the U.N. to consider a joint mission. Ban called the continuing violence "unacceptable."

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