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UN Says Syria Risks Descending Into ‘Full-Fledged Civil War’

December 07, 2011

Dec. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Syria risks being engulfed in a civil war unless President Bashar al-Assad’s government ends its crackdown on opposition protesters, said the top human-rights official of the United Nations.

“The Syrian authorities’ continual ruthless oppression, if not stopped now, can drive the country into a full-fledged civil war,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said at a special session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

More than 4,000 people have been killed since unrest began in mid-March, tens of thousands have been arrested and more than 14,000 are reported to be in detention, Pillay said today. She called for Syria to be referred to the International Criminal Court and said the international community needs to take “urgent and effective” measures to protect the Syrian people.

The crackdown has continued even as allies increase economic and political pressure on the Syrian government, which says it is fighting foreign conspirators, armed gangs and Islamists. Demonstrations against al-Assad’s regime were inspired by the so-called Arab Spring movements that toppled leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

The European Union yesterday banned the export of equipment and technology to the Syrian oil and gas industry as well as of equipment and software for monitoring the Internet and telephones, while the U.S. imposed sanctions on one of al- Assad’s uncles and on a commander of Syria’s elite 4th Armored Division.

Oil Companies

As part of its latest sanctions against Syria, the EU added 12 people and 11 entities including three oil companies to the bloc’s list of those targeted by an asset freeze and a travel ban. The three petroleum companies are Syria Trading Oil Co., General Petroleum Corp. and Al Furat Petroleum Co., according to the decision published today in the EU’s Official Journal.

Turkey and the Arab League have also imposed punitive measures.

The UN has been paralyzed over Syria since Oct. 4, when Russia and China delivered the first double veto since 2008 to block a Security Council resolution calling for al-Assad to halt the crackdown. Speaking at the HRC session today, Valery Loshchinin, Russia’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, called on all sides to find “a long-term solution.”

He urged Syria to “show openness and cooperate” and said “positive steps taken by the government of Syria should be recognized by the council.” At the same time, Loshchinin warned against foreign intervention, which he said would “threaten unforeseen and very serious consequences.”

Children Killed

A total of 307 children have been killed in the violence so far, according to Pillay. November was the deadliest month for children, with 56 killed, said Sergio Paulho Pinheiro, chairman of the independent international commission of inquiry.

In addition to its export bans, the EU added 12 people accused of being responsible for human-rights violations and 11 entities supporting the al-Assad regime to its sanctions list, which includes an asset freeze and visa ban. The EU also prohibited the trading of Syrian bonds and the opening of Syrian bank branches in the 27-nation bloc.

The U.S. Treasury said Muhammad Makhlouf, al-Assad’s uncle and the father of Syria businessman Rami Makhlouf, has been one of the people “al-Assad used to make and move money,” according to a statement yesterday announcing sanctions against him. “Makhlouf ensured that assets in nearly all sectors were controlled by businessmen who were willing to act as proxies for the al-Assad regime in return for profits.”

Military Targeted

The U.S. also applied sanctions on Syria’s Military Housing Establishment, a company controlled by the Defense Ministry that provides funding for the regime, and the Real Estate Bank, the country’s second-largest bank, which administers the government’s borrowings, the Treasury said.

The sanctions bar “U.S. persons” from engaging in transactions with the designated entities and blocks any assets they may have under U.S. jurisdiction.

Turkey imposed sanctions on Syria on Nov. 30 and will expand the punitive measures if al-Assad fails to halt his crackdown, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said. Syrian government assets held in Turkey are being frozen, al-Assad’s leadership team is banned from entry, transactions with Syria’s central bank and trade bank are prohibited, credit agreements are suspended, and arms sales and shipments have been halted, he told reporters in Ankara.

The latest measures follow sanctions adopted by the Arab League against Syria on Nov. 27, after the government in Damascus refused to admit Arab observers into the country. The measures include a freeze on Syrian assets and a travel ban on senior officials in al-Assad’s government.

Agreement Suspended

Syria suspended yesterday its free-trade agreement with Turkey and its membership in the Union for the Mediterranean in response to the sanctions imposed by the EU, which the Foreign Ministry in Damascus said were a “flagrant violation” of the country’s sovereignty, state-run Syrian Arab News Agency said. The union is an initiative aimed at strengthening ties between the EU and countries in North Africa and the Middle East.

Syria’s $60 billion economy, which grew 5.5 percent in 2010, may shrink 2 percent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, or at least 5 percent, according to the Institute of International Finance. The government expects growth of 1 percent, Finance Minister Mohammad Al-Jleilati said in September.

--With assistance from Jones Hayden and Jonathan Stearns in Brussels, Caroline Alexander in London, Emre Peker in Ankara, and Terry Atlas and Nadeem Hamid in Washington. Editors: Heather Langan, Eddie Buckle

To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer M. Freedman in Geneva at; Massoud A. Derhally in Beirut, Lebanon, at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: James Hertling at; Andrew J. Barden at

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