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05 December 2023

EU mulls Syria flight ban, plans for evacuations


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 on Wednesday.

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.