* Syrian oil firms targeted by EU
* Royal Dutch Shell ceases work in Syria
* Western sanctions gather speed
By Justyna Pawlak
BRUSSELS, Dec 2 (Reuters) - The European Union stepped up its sanctions against Syria’s oil industry on Friday, blacklisting state-owned firms that oversee trade and exploration, as part of international efforts to isolate President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
The new measures target state-owned General Petroleum Corporation (GPC) and Syria Trading Oil (Sytrol), as well as a GPC joint venture, Al Furat Petroleum Company. The three were listed in the EU’s Official Journal, which legalised a decision by EU foreign ministers on Thursday.
European businesses are heavily involved in the Syrian oil industry and the move will likely curtail business operations of companies that have shares in Al Furat and participate in exploration projects overseen by GPC.
Royal Dutch Shell, a partner of GPC through the Al Furat venture, said on Friday it would cease activities in Syria.
Friday’s sanctions listings are part of a concerted push by Europe, the United States and the Arab League to intensify pressure on Assad in response to continued state-sponsored violence against protesters. The United Nations estimates 4,000 people have been killed since March in the unrest.
New European sanctions also target a Syrian television channel and a daily newspaper that EU governments said incite violence against protesters.
In an effort to curtail Assad’s ability to suppress dissent, the EU also targeted a research centre and several companies that help it acquire sensitive equipment.
The facility, the EU said, “provides support to the Syrian army for the acquisition of equipment used directly for the surveillance and repression of demonstrators”.
Moving to hamper Assad’s control over the economy, the EU also froze the assets of Syrian Economy Minister Mohammad Nidal al-Shaar and Finance Minister Mohammad al-Jleilati. Neither will be able to travel to the EU while sanctions are in place.
The EU has taken a gradual approach to targeting Syria’s finances in recent months, largely due to concerns by some EU governments over the impact on European interests and out of concern that the Syrian population would suffer as well.
In September, Europe agreed to stop importing Syrian crude oil, but delayed full implementation of the measures until the middle of November, bowing to pressure from Italy, which was heavily dependent on Syrian supplies.
Growing international support for sanctions has, however, given a new impetus to EU moves, particularly the Arab League’s decision to put its own economic pressure on Assad.
For a full list of people and companies affected by new EU sanctions, see the Official Journal notice on: