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Britain downplays likelihood of Syrian oil ban

Foreign office warns of 'damage to the Syrian people' should Europe follow the US ban on petroleum products, as details emerge of Syria's vital role in UK firm Gulfsands' global operations

Ahram Online and agencies, Saturday 20 Aug 2011
Syrian oil
Image from the state news agency purporting to show the aftermath of an oil pipeline attack in western Syria in July
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A government minister says Britain is not urging Europe to join the United States in imposing a ban on Syrian oil.

President Barack Obama this week barred the import of any Syrian petroleum or petroleum products as part of efforts to pressure President Bashar Assad to end a military crackdown on protesters.

Syria is not a huge source of oil for the U.S., with most of its crude oil exports going to European countries such as Germany, Italy and France.

British Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt said Saturday that sanctions should target the regime, not ordinary Syrians.

He told the BBC that European leaders would discuss a petroleum ban, but sanctions must not "enable a Syrian spokesman to say 'You are damaging the Syrian people.'"

Yesterday it was revealed that British oil firm Gulfsands Petroleum could face difficulties with future projects if the European Union follows the United States in toughening sanctions against Syria.

Oriel Securities analyst Nick Copeman said Gulfsands, which produces over 90 per cent of its total output in Syria, could be affected if the EU toughened its stance.

"If the EU were to put sanctions on that would make life quite difficult," Copeman told Reuters, explaining that Gulfsands has a contract with Italian oil services firm Saipem for its development projects.

Syrian oil is primarily exported to Germany, Italy and France but Copeman said in the event of tougher EU sanctions Gulfsands would likely find other markets for its oil and the biggest risk was to the company's future projects.

A spokesman for Gulfsands told Reuters on Friday that the new U.S. restrictions would have little direct impact on Gulfsands. "We continue to monitor sanctions wherever they emanate from. We are vigilant to be compliant at all time," he said.

Gulfsands Petroleum is currently producing around 12,000 barrels of oil per day in Syria and has been able to raise production in recent months despite escalating violence in the country.

Gulfsands's oil field is in Syria's north east, while the unrest has primarily been in the south and west of the country, although recent reports suggest Syrian forces carried out raids in Deir al-Zor, around 140 km away from the southern edge of the company's oil block.

Syrian tycoon Rami Makhlouf, a cousin of the president and a focus of the protests, owns a 5.7 per cent stake in Gulfsands.

Platform, a London-based campaign group for social and environmental justice, on Thursday called for an investigation into Gulfsands relationship with the Assad regime citing Makhlouf's shareholding in the company.

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