EU foreign ministers decide to ease Syria oil embargo to assist rebels

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European Union foreign ministers on Monday eased an oil embargo against Syria with the aim of helping rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

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.

“With a view to helping the Syrian civilian population… a member state may authorize the purchase, import or transport from Syria of crude oil and petroleum products,” but only after consulting with the Syrian opposition, a statement said.

“Anything that can help more resources to be available to people affected by the crisis of course is welcome,” EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.

Buying Syrian crude will be complicated, because of security concerns and battered infrastructure, but officials said more financial help would be offered.

“It is important for us to send a signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible, including ways adding to the finances [of the opposition]," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters as he arrived for Monday's meeting.

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

This first easing in two years of harsh sanctions against the Assad regime aims to help tilt the balance in the conflict.

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, depriving the regime of a major source of cash.

Exports of crude provided up to a third of its hard currency earnings, with the EU buying 95 percent of it.

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