EU puts top Syrian officials under sanctions

France Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (L) and France's Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attend a European Union foreign and defence ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 15 November 2016
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EU puts top Syrian officials under sanctions

BRUSSELS: The European Union extended its sanctions on Syria on Monday, banning the country’s central bank chief and its finance minister from traveling in Europe and freezing their assets in a further step to isolate President Bashar Assad.
The decision to target Central Bank Gov. Duraid Durgham and Finance Minister Maamoun Hamdan, along with 16 other government ministers, made good on the EU’s threat last month to increase sanctions on Syria over the bombing of Aleppo.
Diplomats said targeting the country’s finance chiefs was aimed at pressuring Assad and limiting the central bank’s ability to obtain financing. The bloc already has a ban on dealings with the central bank, as well as an oil embargo and arms embargo.
The European Union singled out the central bank governor Durgham as “responsible for providing economic and financial support to the Syrian regime.”
Hamdan, among those picked in a government reshuffle in July, was put under sanctions along with Syria’s ministers responsible for areas such as electricity, water, industry and information.
The decision now puts a total of 234 people and 69 companies and institutions under sanctions for what the bloc said was “repression against the civilian population in Syria.”
In northern Syria, meanwhile, opposition commanders said that Syrian fighters backed by Turkey were poised to begin an assault to try to drive Daesh from Al-Bab.
Al-Bab is fast becoming a major faultline in the war in northern Syria, bringing Free Syrian Army fighters backed by Turkish armor closer than ever to frontlines held by the Syrian government and its Iranian and Russian allies in nearby Aleppo.
“There is nothing between us and Al-Bab,” said one of the rebels, a commander in one of the groups fighting under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner taking part in the Turkey-backed Euphrates Shield operation in north Syria that began in August.
“If not in hours then in a very few days we will be inside Al-Bab,” said the commander.
Also Monday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said a fighter jet crashed while attempting to land on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean off Syria, but the pilot survived.
In a statement to Russian news agencies, the Defense Ministry said the MiG-29K fighter crashed due to a “technical fault” a few kilometers from the carrier.
The pilot ejected and was recovered and taken aboard the ship.
“The pilot’s health is in no danger. The pilot is ready to carry out missions,” the ministry said, quoted by Interfax news agency.
The defense ministry said the plane was taking part in training flights.
It stressed that flights were still going ahead from the aircraft carrier despite the accident.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State John Kerry discussed Syria by phone on Monday and agreed to continue experts’ consultations to try to resolve the crisis.
It said Lavrov told Kerry that Washington had failed to stick to its pledge to encourage Syrian opposition to separate themselves from “terrorist” groups in Aleppo.
Lavrov also expressed “indignation” at the US decision not to issue an entry visa to Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, the president of the World Chess Federation (FIDE), who will miss the World Chess Championship in New York as a result.
The US-led coalition began strikes in Syria in September 2014, and has worked closely with Syrian Kurdish-led forces to push Daesh from large swathes of territory.
Such cooperation has angered Turkey, which considers the main Syrian Kurdish YPG militia a “terrorist” group, and is currently waging its own offensive inside Syria, targeting both Daesh and the Kurds.

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Lebanese MP: Sweida hostages were freed by Russia

The regime wanted to use what happened to blackmail Syrian Druze into returning to the military service, says the MP. (AFP/SANA)
Updated 12 min 55 sec ago
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Lebanese MP: Sweida hostages were freed by Russia

  • The Russians were responsible for the monitoring, reconnaissance, timing and execution of the operation
  • Daesh had kidnapped 36 women and children from the Syrian southern province of Sweida during an attack that killed more than 250 people

BEIRUT: Lebanese MP and member of the Democratic Gathering party Wael Abou Faour told Arab News that “the liberation of the women abducted by Daesh on Nov. 8 was accomplished by Russian special forces. They were responsible for the monitoring, reconnaissance, timing and execution of the operation. The Syrian army was not the one to do so as the regime had claimed. However, some Syrian elements that directly follow the Russian leadership took part in the operation.”

“What happened was a military liberation operation. No deal was made with the Syrian regime or the abductors,” he added.
Faour had accompanied the head of the Democratic Gathering party, Taymour Jumblatt, on a trip to Moscow where they met with the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, in the presence of the official in charge of the issues of Lebanon, Syria and Palestine Andrei Banov. “The Russians informed us that the hostages will be released very soon at 10 a.m. Moscow time, while the Syrian announcement of their liberation came at 3 in the afternoon,” he noted.
Daesh had kidnapped 36 women and children from the Syrian southern province of Sweida during an attack that killed more than 250 people, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
“The Syrian regime was responsible for the kidnapping in the first place, so it is not normal for it to be behind the liberation. The regime wanted to use what happened to blackmail Syrian Druze into returning to the military service. There are hundred of thousands of Druze in Syria and 53,000 of them refused to join the military.”
“Since the beginning of the kidnapping crisis, the Russian leadership informed us that it is working directly on the ground and running the negotiations. Through announcing its responsibility for the liberation of the hostages, the Syrian regime is trying to look as if it is protecting the Druze and acquit itself from letting Daesh into the Druze areas,” Faour pointed out.
“The situation in Sweida is relatively acceptable. Some arrangements are being made under the direct guidance of the Russian leadership. Taymour Jumblatt is taking part in this matter in a way that preserves the security of Sweida residents and their relations with the rest of the Syrian people and prevents their usage in any future conspiracies carried out by the regime.
“These recent events showed that Taymour Jumblatt’s confidence in the Russians was in place especially after the liberation operation. Further discussions about future arrangements related to the Druze’s situation in Syria are under way. A suggestion proposed that the Druze wanted for military service would join the fifth legion led directly by Russia, which is receiving positive feedback among Druze,” he said.
“The relation between the Progressive Socialist Party led by Walid Jumblatt and the Russian Federation is historic. Russians preserve their relations with their historic allies and remember the great role of Kamal Jumblatt, who was awarded with the Order of Lenin among very few figures in the world. They also cherish the common friendship and struggle they share with Walid Jumblatt and want to consolidate the relation with his son Taymour.
“The relation with Russia does not lead to a relation with President Bashar Assad. That relation will only come back to life when there is a democratic regime in Syria,” Faour stressed.
“Russia is working on a gradual political solution in Syria. There is no turning away from the constitutional committee. There are discussions related to the representatives of the civil society that constitute a third of the committee, which balances it in some way.
“The meeting held with Russian officials also discussed Lebanese issues. Moscow showed a great interest in the internal situation and it fears that the current developments, international disputes in particular, may destabilize its stability.
“They are very concerned with the forming of the Lebanese government headed by Saad Hariri, and Bogdanov expressed Russia’s readiness to take any initiative to help Lebanon overcome the government crisis,” he added.