- Kuwait Times Extra
BRUSSELS: As tens of thousands of Syrians flee escalating war and chaos, the EU looked at ways of boosting humanitarian relief and beefed up sanctions and an arms embargo against the regime yesterday. Joining talks with their European Union counterparts, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Sweden called for a hike in aid to Syrians who have fled to safety in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. “We have to step up humanitarian assistance for the people fleeing,” said British Foreign Secretary William Hague, as France’s Laurent Fabius and Sweden’s Carl Bildt demanded the EU “do more” to help Syria’s neighbours cope with the influx.
Brussels meanwhile announced it was increasing by €20 million its emergency aid to Syrian refugees to total €63 million. “Hundreds of thousands of Syrians are in a desperate situation,” said the EU’s commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva. While 100,000 refugees from the conflict in Syria have been officially registered, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees believes the number of displaced is 10 times as big. “One million people may have been forced to flee inside the country since the conflict began,” the UN agemcy said last week.
Also high in the minds of the foreign ministers was how to prepare for a potential humanitarian crisis on Europe’s doorstep. Cyprus, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, has warned that up to 200,000 foreign nationals may have to be evacuated from Syria, many of them also holding Syrian passports. Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis has said the island-nation, only 100 km from Syria and Lebanon, was preparing an operation on the lines of its evacuation of 65,000 foreign nationals from Lebanon in 2006 during the Lebanon-Israel war.
The EU ministers, deeming President Bashar Al-Assad’s regime is nearing tipping-point, yesterday also froze the assets of a further 26 Syrians and three firms and agreed to inspect all vessels and planes suspected of carrying arms to Damascus. “We have to continue the pressure on Syria,” said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. “The situation is terrible. Sanctions are an important part of the pressure.” No details were provided on those targeted in this 17th round of EU sanctions since anti-Assad protests erupted in March 2011, but one minister said the national air carrier was targeted.
Germany’s deputy foreign minister for Europe Michael Link walked into the talks saying “time is running out for the Assad regime” while Bildt declared that “the regime will fall. We don’t know when but need to be prepared for the day that will come.” In response the ministers mulled a German call to organise “a rapid and effective” EU response to what Berlin described as “a turning point” in the Syrian conflict. It notably warned against the dangers of an escalation of the violence, including the use by the regime of weapons of mass destruction.
The tightening of the EU’s May 2011 export ban on arms and material which might be used for internal repression follows growing concern that weapons or goods may be getting through. Under the new rules, should a member of the EU suspect a vessel in its territorial waters to be carrying suspect cargo for Syria, it will be obliged to send inspectors. The same principle would be applied to air cargo. – AFP
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