, DAMASCUS, Jan 20 – Syria said on Thursday that sanctions were biting ahead of Arab League ministers being briefed on the heavily criticised monitoring mission’s operations and as NATO’s top officer said the alliance was not even thinking of intervention.
“We have suffered important losses as a result of our inability to export crude oil and petroleum products,” Oil Minister Sufian Allaw told a news conference in Damascus.
“The shortfall and losses from September 1 until now add up to more than $2 billion,” he said.
“The oil embargo has caused a drop in production of 150,000 barrels, or $15 million, a day,” he said.
The United States has banned the import of Syrian crude and petroleum products and prohibits Americans from engaging in any transactions or dealings in or related to Syrian-origin oil.
The European Union also has a ban on imports of Syrian crude, along with that of oil and gas equipment.
Meanwhile, Arab League deputy leader Ahmed Ben Helli said the “decisive” report on monitors would evaluate Syrian cooperation with the month-long mission, while noting difficulties in observers gaining access to hot spots.
“We are at a turning point, as the Arab observer mission’s report will be presented on Thursday, marking a month since the protocol was signed,” Ben Helli said on Wednesday.
“The report will be decisive.”
Arab foreign ministers will hear the mission’s report at a meeting on Sunday when they will decide whether to seek Damascus’s agreement to extend it for a second month.
The two sides agreed that the mission could continue until Sunday’s meeting.
The League’s Syria operations chief, Adnan Khodeir, said mission leader General Mohammed Ahmed Mustafa al-Dabi was due at Cairo headquarters to deliver the report to League chief Nabil al-Arabi ahead of Sunday ministerial meetings.
Qatar, whose Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani chairs the Arab League panel on Syria, has been pressing for the observer mission to be given teeth by deploying Arab peacekeeping troops.
The Qatari proposal, which Damascus has flatly rejected, is not formally on the agenda of Sunday’s foreign ministers’ meeting, but it could be discussed, Khodeir said.
In Brussels, NATO’s most senior officer said the alliance was not planning or even “thinking” of intervening in Syria, days after a top Russian official said such plans were in the making.
“There is no planning and we are not thinking about an intervention,” General Knud Bartels, head of NATO’s Military Committee, said after a two-day meeting of the alliance’s military chiefs.
During the talks, he said nations from NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue — a forum including Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia — “expressed their concerns about the upheaval we are seeing in the region.”
“But there was no dicussion at all of a military intervention,” said Bartels, the former head of the Danish army.
Syrian state news agency SANA quoted President Bashar al-Assad as rejecting any foreign intervention.
“The Syrian people are attached to their unity despite all the difficulties, and understand the breadth of the plots against their security and cohesion,” he was quoted as telling a group of people opposed to outside intervention.
Australia’s foreign minister on Thursday called on Assad to step down, saying he should be tried before the International Criminal Court for “atrocities” against his people.
“Our view in Australia is in fact his case is worthy of referral to the International Criminal Court, given the level of atrocities we have seen,” Kevin Rudd told reporters at the French foreign ministry in Paris, adding that further atrocities were being committed “as we speak.”
On the ground, activists reported another 18 civilian deaths killed by Syrian security forces on Thursday.
Among them were four leading pro-democracy activists who were killed in an ambush in Idlib province in the northwest, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
Meanwhile, SANA reported that a brigadier general and two security force members were killed “by the fire of armed terrorist groups in the district of Al-Jarajmeh in Hama.”
The Observatory said it could confirm “a brigadier general, a lieutenant and three soldiers were killed after a group of deserters destroyed two armoured vehicles and troop carriers.”
It also reported the death of three deserters in separate incidents.
The Arab mission, which currently numbers about 165 monitors, has been in Syria since December 26 to oversee an Arab road map under which President Bashar al-Assad’s government agreed to end violence.
The United Nations estimates that the unrest in Syria between the security forces and pro-democracy activists has left more than 5,400 people dead since it first erupted in March, with 400 killed since the observers deployed.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said it was clear that the mission was “in difficulty” and not being allowed to work, adding that the observers’ report should be submitted to the UN Security Council for further action.
A tough Security Council resolution on Syria has been blocked by veto-wielding permanent members Russia and China.
Moscow has warned against Western calls for punitive measures against Damascus, insisting the opposition is as much to blame for the violence as the regime.
German UN envoy Peter Wittig said the Security Council “did not live up to its responsibilities” in the face of vetoes by Moscow and Beijing in October of a European-drafted resolution that would have threatened Damascus with “targeted measures.”