West set to impose new Syria sanctions
EU TO HOLD OFF ON IMPOSING MEASURES AGAINST RUSSIA
European Union foreign ministers yesterday threatened new sanctions on Syria over what the West says were chemical attacks on its own people, but held off from joining expected new US punitive measures against Russia.
After Britain and France joined the United States in missile salvoes meant to knock out Syrian chemical arms facilities, EU foreign ministers eyed steps to deepen the isolation of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
“The European Union will continue to consider further restrictive measures against Syria as long as the repression continues,” all 28 foreign ministers said in a statement after their talks in Luxembourg, referring to economic sanctions.
Air strikes endorsed
They also endorsed the US, British and French air strikes carried out on Saturday that Western powers said were a response to an April 7 poison gas attack on the rebel enclave of Douma and were seen as a way to stop the use of chemical weapons.
“It is very important to stress (the strikes are) not an attempt to change the tide of the war in Syria or to have a regime change,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters on arrival at the meeting.
“I’m afraid the Syrian war will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we’ve had enough of the use of chemical weapons,” he said.
Any new sanctions on Al Assad would build on a series of such EU measures since 2011, ranging from an arms embargo and a ban on dealings with the Syrian central bank to travel bans and asset freezes on Syrian officials, military, business people and scientists accused of developing chemical weapons.
But EU diplomats said there was no discussion yesterday to target Russian military figures who, along with Iran, have allowed Al Assad to regain rebelheld territory in Syria’s sevenyear war.
The West accuses Al Assad of war crimes arising from aerial bombardments and gas attacks on civilians and hospitals.
The United States is due to announce new economic sanctions on Russia aimed at companies it alleges were dealing with equipment related to chemical weapons, according to US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley.
Looking to US
However, EU diplomats cautioned that until European governments had more idea of what the United States was planning, it was not possible to quickly follow suit.
In the past, EU measures have sometimes come months after Washington’s.
Meanwhile, international inspectors were prevented from accessing the site of the suspected gas attack which heightened the diplomatic confrontation between the West and Al Assad’s main ally Russia.
The US envoy to the global watchdog yesterday said Russia may have tampered with the site of the incident on April 7 in Douma outside of Damascus.
“It is long overdue that this council condemns the Syrian government for its reign of chemical terror and demands international accountability those responsible for these heinous acts,” US Ambassador Kenneth Ward said in comments seen by Reuters.
In London, British Prime Minister Theresa May was facing criticism over her decision to bypass parliament and take part in the air strikes against Syria.
The United States, France and Britain launched 105 missiles targeting what the Pentagon said were three chemical weapons facilities in Syria in retaliation for the suspected poison gas attack.
The Western countries blame Al Assad for the Douma attack, which a Syrian medical relief group said killed dozens of people.