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Assad blocks access to Damascus for EU envoys: diplomats

Published: Updated:

Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has revoked special visas for European Union diplomats and officials traveling regularly between Beirut and Damascus, complicating efforts to distribute aid to civil war victims, three senior EU diplomats said.

Since conflict broke out in Syria in 2011, the EU has used the Lebanese capital, the nearest major city, for its diplomatic base while closing most embassies in Damascus in protest over what they describe as Assad’s brutal assault on the opposition.

But the special permission to use multiple-entry Syrian visas for access to Damascus was rescinded at the start of January with no explanation from the Syrian government, the EU diplomats said, meaning personnel have to apply for time-consuming, single-entry visas every time they wish to travel.

The EU diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity said they believed it was an attempt to try to force European governments and the bloc to re-open embassies in Damascus, as the Syrian army, backed by Russian and Iranian forces, regains control of most of the country.

“It’s a serious problem for the EU’s humanitarian assistance,” said one EU diplomat. “This is a measure that hits diplomats and staff of European government embassies and the European Union institutions.”

Reuters was unable immediately to reach Syrian Foreign Ministry officials for comment.

After more than seven years of a devastating war drawing in foreign powers, the European Commission, the EU executive, has channeled almost 800 million euros ($909.44 million) on food, medicine and shelter for Syrians inside the country.

There was no immediate available estimate for the impact of the multi-visa ban, but a Commission spokesman said that the bloc was “doing everything in our power to take appropriate measures to minimize any impact on the delivery of EU humanitarian assistance inside Syria.”