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EU mulls Syria flight ban, plans for evacuations

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image ‘Any outcome of national dialogue should be the result of agreement between the Syrians themselves and should be acceptable to all Syrians’: Sergei Lavrov

The European Union is making contingency plans in case it needs to evacuate EU citizens from Syria and is mulling a ban on flights into and out of the country, senior officials said yesterday.
The suspension of commercial flights is among a raft of new sanctions being debated by the EU in the face of an unrelenting crackdown on opponents in Syria after Russia and China vetoed a UN resolution to end the violence.
“We’re trying to make things change,” a senior EU official said on condition of anonymity, voicing concern that the violence could last a long time. “We’re facing a wall, and we have to find a way of climbing over that wall and moving ahead.”
The 27-state bloc is also discussing whether to ban the import of phosphates from Syria, freeze the assets of the Syrian central bank and suspend trade in gold and other gems in order to dry up the regime’s funds, diplomats said.
The new sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime could be adopted at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers on February 27.
“We will get in the end new sanctions against Syria. I have no doubt about that. What will be the exact shape of sanctions is what remains to be seen,” the official said.
Germany proposed a flight ban but some countries have voiced reservations, noting that keeping planes aloft may be needed in case of a humanitarian emergency, officials said.
The EU is making contingency plans for the “worst case scenario,” reinforcing delegations in Amman and Beirut to deal with any influx of EU and other citizens fleeing Syria, said another senior official.
Thousands of Europeans are believed to be in Syria but governments are trying to determine the exact number.
The EU and members states will have a “coordinated discussion on the security in the country, on security for citizens and on contingency planning,” the official said.
Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, back from talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, pointedly declined to say yesterday whether Moscow asked the embattled leader to go, stressing that Syrians themselves should decide his fate.
“Any outcome of national dialogue should be the result of agreement between the Syrians themselves and should be acceptable to all Syrians,” Lavrov told reporters in Moscow.
He sidestepped a direct question from a reporter who asked Russia’s top diplomat whether he urged Assad to step down during their talks in Damascus Tuesday.
“Trying in advance to decide the result of national dialogue is basically not the job of the international community,” Lavrov said, adding that both the government and all the opposition forces should sit down for talks.
Lavrov, who was given a hero’s welcome by Assad’s supporters in Damascus, also said that recalling envoys from Damascus would not help the Arab League’s plan.
“I do not think that recalling ambassadors helps create conditions that would be favourable to the realisation of the Arab League’s initiative,” he said after several Western and Arab states recalled their envoys from Syria.
After Tuesday’s talks Lavrov said Russia was prepared to work to end the crisis under a peace plan put forward by the Arab League and that Assad was ready for dialogue with all political forces.
The latest Arab League plan would see Assad transferring power to his deputy and a government of national unity formed within two months.

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