International sanctions aimed at the Syrian government have cut its financial reserves in half and pressure must be maintained on Damascus to stop its bloody crackdown on opponents despite a shaky five-day ceasefire, French foreign minister Alain Juppé said yesterday.
The financial pressure, including an oil embargo and sanctions on the central bank, is damaging Syria’s ability “to finance and arm militias, the lethal shabiha death squads”, Mr Juppé said, and is hurting those around what he called “the ruling clan” of President Bashar al-Assad.
As Mr Juppé spoke to a gathering of the Friends of Syria, representing 57 countries which have imposed sanctions on Damascus, Syrian opposition activists said Syrian forces continued to shell towns in the north, around Idlib, and in the south, in Daraa province, in apparent violation of a ceasefire negotiated by Kofi Annan, the UN and Arab League special envoy.
An advance team of six UN observers worked on how to monitor the ceasefire as they waited for another 24 observers to arrive in the next few days. The observers “will start with setting up operating headquarters and reaching out to the Syrian government and the opposition forces so that both sides fully understand” their role, Mr Annan’s spokesman, Ahmad Fawzi, said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based anti-Assad group with contacts in Syria, said Syrian military tanks shelled the southern town of Busra al-Harir, killing at least two people, and the Khaldiyeh district of Homs yesterday. Both areas are considered strongholds of the Free Syrian Army, a group of former soldiers and others who have taken up arms against Mr Assad’s forces. Al-Arabiya television reported that Syrian forces killed 39 people yesterday.
The Paris conference is intended to co-ordinate and strengthen existing sanctions on the Syrian government, according to French diplomats, as a follow-up to grander meetings of the Friends of Syria at a higher level, in Tunis and Istanbul.
It is chaired by France, the European Union’s foreign service and Morocco, representing Arab countries on the UN Security Council. Two Arab League nations, Syria’s neighbours Iraq and Lebanon, did not attend.
US secretary of state Hillary Clinton is expected in Paris tomorrow afternoon after Nato meetings in Brussels for a higher-level discussion on Syria, French diplomats said. France is hoping to have a group of foreign ministers, including from Arab League countries such as Qatar, which has been pressing for more military help for the Syrian opposition, to a meeting over dinner to reinforce the general disapproval of Damascus and its repression of opposition groups.
Mr Juppé, in his speech, listed the consequences: 10,000 dead, more than 44,000 refugees, 1.5 million Syrians in need of humanitarian aid, he said, calling it “the sad toll of the Syrian regime’s criminal crackdown”.
Russia, however, has justified Syria’s use of force as a response to armed insurrection.
Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov, who has regularly defended the Syrian government’s military efforts to defeat what he has called “armed gangs” and “armed terrorist groups” who have infiltrated peaceful protesters, yesterday met some Syrian opposition figures in Moscow.
The opposition envoys said they had sensed a shift in the Russian position toward more criticism of Mr Assad. Haytham Manna, a Syrian exile leader, referred to Russia’s support for democratic change in Syria. “The Russian representatives discussing the problems of our country with us are no longer inclined to support the continuing existence of a dictatorial regime but speak of the necessity for democratic change,” Mr Manna said. Russia, he said, “has all the necessary levers to apply pressure on Assad’s government and help Annan’s mission”. – (New York Times service)
Source: Irish Times