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Debates
Wednesday, 4 July 2012 - Strasbourg OJ edition

15. Situation in Syria (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. – The next item is the statement by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the Commission on the situation in Syria.

 
  
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  Andreas Mavroyiannis, President-in-Office of the Council, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, it is my pleasure to present to you the EU’s position and latest activities on Syria on behalf of the High Representative/Vice-President of the Commission, Catherine Ashton.

The situation in Syria continues to gravely concern the European Union. Violence has increased and the numbers of casualties have reached unimaginable levels. The risk of civil war has become more real and there are already signs of increasing sectarian conflict.

Human rights abuses continue. Any further militarisation of the conflict would have a serious impact not only on the Syrian people but on the region as a whole. In response, the European Union stepped up its activities on Syria with the aim of urgently bringing about an end to the violence and finding a solution to allow for a Syrian-led political transition to take place.

This week is particularly busy as efforts take place at international level to consolidate, unify and strengthen the international community’s response to the Syrian conflict. This is exactly what the High Representative/Vice-President presented in this Chamber during the last plenary session: the need for a road map to support Kofi Annan, strengthen international pressure and make diplomatic efforts more united and robust, including the call for UN Security Council action and the involvement of Russia and China.

The High Representative/Vice-President Catherine Ashton participated in the meeting of the Action Group for Syria in Geneva convened by Joint Special Envoy Kofi Annan on Saturday. As you know, the participants in the meeting, the United Nations, the League of Arab States, the European Union, China, Russia, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, Turkey, Iraq and Kuwait, agreed on the principles and guidelines for a Syrian-led transition which includes the establishment of a transitional government body exercising full executive powers. The transitional governing body could include members of the present government on the basis of mutual agreement.

The Action Group also reiterated its full support to Kofi Annan in his six-point plan, as well as for the United Nations observation mission in Syria giving the Special Envoy’s activities a new unified momentum. Furthermore, the group committed to opposing any further militarisation of the conflict.

There is now a path for a Syrian-led transition and a mandate for Kofi Annan to take this forward even if implementation is the biggest challenge. These are steps forward and we will have to collectively ensure that they are followed up. The European Union is committed to doing everything possible to help this process.

Further to the Action Group in Geneva, the Friends of Syria group will meet on Friday in Paris. The High Representative will attend the meeting with an expected number of up to 100 countries. It is our hope that the Friends of Syria meeting will endorse the outcome of the Action Group to ensure a unified response by the international community.

The challenge is now to implement the agreed principles and guidelines for transition. Key issues to be addressed include the appointment of an effective and empowered interlocutor by the Syrian Government which is also acceptable to the opposition. Many components of the opposition have been quick to reject this very notion that, without a partner to negotiate with, a political solution is difficult to achieve. The effective implementation also requires a coherent and representative opposition.

Yesterday’s opposition meeting in Cairo, organised by the League of Arab States and with European Union participation, was another step in trying to unite the different groups. We must help to bridge the gap between the views of the opposition inside Syria and those outside Syria.

On the initiative of the High Representative/Vice-President Ashton, the European Union continues to meet with representatives of different groups. It has most recently supported and financed opposition seminars in Brussels from the Instrument for Stability, organised by Syrians for Syrians on transition issues. The first seminar, which took place on 24 and 25 June in Brussels, gathered a broad range of opposition figures to discuss issues related to the transition process, including supranational and constitutional principles, democratic principles, economic and social issues and, last but not least, minority rights. These are issues which you, the Members of the European Parliament, have drawn our attention to on several occasions. The message of those present was that Syria is for all Syrians. Inclusiveness and respect for minorities are essential. The second EU funded seminar will take place in Cairo in mid-July.

These opposition seminars aim to contribute to the political process of ensuring a representative opposition. Through this process the European Union continues to facilitate Syrian-led inclusive dialogue actions. In parallel the European Union continues to call for united action by the UN Security Council to add more robust and effective pressure.

The Syrian regime holds great responsibility for the violence perpetrated. Massacres continue while international efforts to solve the crisis are ongoing. This is unacceptable and those responsible for crimes during the current conflict must be held accountable.

The European Union’s response is not limited to diplomacy and political engagement at all levels. The European Union will continue to step up sanctions as long as the repression continues. The sanctions are targeted towards the Syrian regime to deprive it of its sources for repression with minimal impact on the civilian population.

On 25 June foreign ministers agreed on the 16th round of sanctions since May 2011. We must now continue to reach out to partners to ensure effective implementation and hope to increase international pressure in the Friends of Syria meeting.

Whilst bilateral aid is suspended the European Union has stepped up assistance to a number of human rights organisations and activists. On 8 June the European Union approved a EUR 23 million special measure to support both civil society within Syria and Syrian refugees in the neighbouring countries in areas affected by an influx of Syrian refugees.

Humanitarian access remains a concern and the European Union continues to monitor the implementation of the agreement between the Syrian Government and the United Nations closely. To date the European Union has allocated over EUR 44.6 million to address humanitarian needs inside Syria and in neighbouring countries.

Finally, the European Union supports the United Nations observation mission with EUR 8.2 million. The funds are used to finance 25 armoured vehicles, logistics and support for placing air ambulance capability if requested. Further initiatives that facilitate Syrian-led and inclusive dialogue that could help lead to a political solution can also be funded.

I can assure you that the European Union will continue to do its utmost to support the Syrian people in their struggle for peace and freedom and to facilitate a peaceful transition process.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: RAINER WIELAND
Vice-President

 
  
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  Véronique De Keyser, on behalf of the S&D Group.(FR) Mr President, of course we support the EU policy led in particular by Baroness Ashton. However, I now wonder what we can do with the limited means we have at our disposal. As has been said, all this is ‘high politics’, you talk about it in the highest circles, but what about us, what more can we do?

Three weeks ago, I met Mr al Labwani, a longstanding Syrian opposition leader who was imprisoned five years ago. On leaving the confines of Parliament at the time, he returned to Damascus and was immediately imprisoned. What is more, this was not for the first time. Together in my office, five years ago, we discussed conditions inside Bashar al-Assad’s prisons and we talked about the temptation of suicide. He said to me, ‘It is terrible!’ When asked if he was frightened, he replied, ‘No, I will not kill myself!’ What really touched me when I met him again was when he said to me, ‘See, Ms De Keyser, I did not kill myself and I am now the happiest I have been in my life. I could never have imagined this. Despite the massacres we are now seeing, I had never in my life imagined that I would see this day in Syria’.

In other words, beyond the massacres, beyond the horrors that are occurring – and I will talk about that – there is now hope among the civilian population in Syria, and therefore we cannot let them down. This message went straight to my heart and I said, ‘What can we do?’

I have here the reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. I have all the preliminary statistics on crimes against humanity, on torture in Syria today and I do not even dare, Mr President, to read out any of these stories because they are beyond comprehension.

What I would like to say to you is that we need to prepare for what comes after Bashar al-Assad. We must now set out the arguments and gather the evidence. What is more, I am asking you, and the European Union, because …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Marietje Schaake, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Mr President, it has been six weeks since the gruesome videos of the Hula massacre found their way to the Internet. Murdered children were considered a ‘tipping-point’ by many but, just like the words ‘never again’, this phrase sounds terribly hollow.

Even as the Assad regime continues its all-out war against the Syrian population, numerous brave Syrians are still willing to pay the highest price when protesting peacefully for freedom and respect for their rights and dignity. Defected military personnel speak of the ‘blessing’ of dying through government forced lethal injection in preference to bleeding to death after torture. We must tell, but more importantly show, the Syrian population we will not forget them. What does responsibility to protect even mean at this point?

Sadly solutions in Syria are not easy. The new action group for Syria identified steps to ensure full implementation of Kofi Annan’s six-point plan and the Security Council resolution must come forward as soon as possible. But let us not be distracted. And in that respect I welcome the restraint in Turkey’s response – despite the clear provocation by Syria in shooting down the fighter jet and killing the air force pilots. My thoughts go out to the families of these two pilots that lost their lives.

We welcome the participation of China and Russia in the action group but regret the cynical choice, thus far, of putting interests before the lives of people. Yet we have to acknowledge that Russia must be a part of the solution to the crisis, however hard that may be.

In the EU, and especially during the Cyprus Presidency, we also bear huge responsibility, and should lead an open and transparent investigation into how a Russian ship carrying weapons could reach Syrian shores after docking in a Cyprus port and being identified by the Cyprus authorities.

This Parliament has urged Catherine Ashton to start a full investigation but so far no real assurances have been given. When unenforced, EU sanctions are merely a paper reality and that does nothing to help the Syrian people.

 
  
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  Hélène Flautre, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Mr President, Ms Schaake has raised a very relevant issue with the Presidency of the Council. I am sure its representative will endeavour to provide a response to it.

The situation on the ground, as described, has peaked, reaching new levels of apocalyptic violence and horror – with 800 deaths last week. The Human Rights Watch report, systematic torture in one of the 27 detention centres and the witness reports given are quite unbearable.

At the same time, for just over a week now, I think, we have seen fresh diplomatic initiatives which are maybe precursors of the wind of change needed to find a solution. I think, even so, that the meeting held in Geneva made a start – albeit limited and not totally satisfactorily – towards the proposal for a transitional government of national unity, obviously without Assad and his torturers, but including some among its numbers.

This has two benefits. In this situation, just because we feel that a solution is possible does not necessarily mean there will be less violence on the ground. Quite the contrary. We could see an escalation of violence by the regime. From this point of view, this proposal both encourages the mass desertions seen among soldiers of the regular army but must also enable acceptance of members of the Assad regime and the Baath Party as part of this interim solution. As things stand, I believe that this is extremely important.

I hope that this prospect, which was encouraged by the meeting of all the components of the Syrian opposition, by the Arab League this week, by the meetings of the Russian Foreign Minister with the Syrian opposition, marks a turning point in this situation which offers a glimmer of hope. Moreover, I think that the EU should fully exploit this glimmer of hope, especially at the meeting of the Friends of the Syrian people in Paris at the end of the week.

 
  
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  Geoffrey Van Orden, on behalf of the ECR Group. Mr President, sadly we are only too aware of the atrocities and the human cost of the repression taking place in Syria, and the dreadful impact on the Syrian people.

I want to focus very briefly on the wider implications for regional security. Syria, of course, has long been unapologetically close to the regime in Iran. It has hosted terrorist organisations rejected elsewhere and has promoted terrorism in other countries. Only recently, Hamas shifted its HQ from Damascus. A few months ago the anti-Turkish PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party) was welcomed back by Assad, and Syria has long been the logistics base for Hezbollah and other movements with terrorist affiliates.

This is in keeping with Syria’s longstanding opposition to peace with Israel. Under Assad’s regime, Israel’s borders are under constant threat from Syrian and Iranian-sponsored attacks.

Turkey and Israel share a strategic interest in the transparency and stability of Syria, with a view to ensuring that it is no longer a sanctuary for terrorists and other hostile movements, and we should give both countries every possible support in the difficulties they face in dealing with the consequences of Assad’s violence.

 
  
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  Giancarlo Scottà, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Mr President, ladies and gentlemen, as we have heard and as has been said, I am concerned about what is happening in Syria, where the conflict is continuing with increasing loss of human life. Neither of the two sides can win via the military approach and the only possible solution is a political one, supported by the government and the opposition. Europe must work to this end.

The dangers to avoid are a takeover by Islamic extremism or the Balkanisation of the country along ethnic and religious lines. I hope that Europe adopts a serious and practical stance – which, as we have already heard, it is working on – and I therefore hope for an excellent outcome to put an end to these civilian and military deaths, and everything else.

 
  
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  Elmar Brok, on behalf of the PPE Group.(DE) Mr President, there are a few comments I should like to make. I believe that the work carried out by the foreign ministers in the last week and the conclusions of the European Council are highly significant. However, the conference of the Friends of Syria has shown how fractured the opposition is. I believe that is one of the main problems.

We do not need to discuss our condemnation of Assad, the need to remove him from office and the unacceptable nature of the violence he practises against his own people. The decisive point is that the opposition is not able to agree on a shared position regarding democracy and the rule of law in which the religious and ethnic minorities can play a role, as these minorities are still fearful that things will be worse for them under an Islamic regime than at present. That is one of the key problems that we face.

We must recognise that one point that we must judge in a sober way is the role of the financial backing provided by Qatar and Saudi Arabia; these countries are clearly taking this opportunity to support Salafists and Islamists, which is a huge problem. Nonetheless, I would like to state that I have a great deal of sympathy for the efforts and performance of Turkey. The Turkish Government is taking up a lot of the burden and is directly affected by the situation. I believe that it is quite clear that the shooting down of the plane is unacceptable and that we stand in solidarity with Turkey, as our partner and, significantly in this case, our NATO ally.

Once again I would urge that the Assad regime should be brought to an end – I know that the President-in-Office of the Council and the High Representative agree with me on this point – while at the same time a solution needs to be found that will not completely split the government and make the situation in the region even more difficult. I would ask that we continue to focus great attention on this issue, however this will only be possible if the Western community remains united and if we work together with the Arab League and other forces in Turkey. The Arabs cannot be absolved of responsibility here in finding a peaceful solution under the rule of law in which the minorities also have a place.

 
  
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  Richard Howitt (S&D). - Mr President, I would like to ask the President-in-Office about his statement that those responsible for crimes must be held accountable.

I would ask you, President-in-Office, why you and your fellow foreign ministers dropped the reference to support for a reference to the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity committed in Syria from the draft text of the conclusions of the last Foreign Affairs Council, and why you withdrew from tabling the text on Syria at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week? Is it because in reality you do not support such a reference despite the repeated calls by the UN High Commissioner for this to take place?

Like many colleagues in this debate we have read the Human Rights Watch report this week detailing the torture inflicted by the Syrian authorities, including beating by baton and wire, electrocution, burning with battery acid, sexual assault, the pulling of fingernails and mock execution.

Elias, one detainee, described how he had been hung by his wrists for eight days and denied sleep. He said: ‘My brain stopped working. I was imagining things. ... It was excruciating. I screamed that I needed to go to a hospital, but the guards just laughed at me.’

Why do you not support a reference to the International Criminal Court and today will you commit the European Union …

(The President cut off the speaker)

 
  
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  Nikolaos Salavrakos (EFD).(EL) Mr President, developments in Syria are marked by escalating violence and aggression on the part of the Assad government, which has been bombing the towns of Homs and Doum. Many – over 4 000 – lives have been lost over the past eight months. At the same time, the ghosts of political and religious conflicts and ethnic differences have been resurrected.

At the same time, tension is increasing on the Turkish border and there is a risk of a military episode – voluntary or involuntary – at any moment. Anyone who has read Davutoglu’s book entitled ‘Strategic Depth’ will understand why Turkey is offering support to the Syrian opposition and is hosting numerous opposition groups in its territory, as the Minister noted in his first speech.

Christians in the area feel insecure. On the international diplomacy front, the conflict between Russia and the West remains and Moscow is refusing to attend the summit of the Friends of the Syrian People next Friday. A global crisis is lying in ambush and we need to keep our wits about us.

 
  
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  Charalampos Angourakis (GUE/NGL) . – (EL) Mr President, we condemn the decisions adopted by the European Council on Syria and Iran on 29 June, because they signal an escalation in imperialist intervention by the European Union, the USA and NATO in the area, an area of harsh infighting between the capitalist forces of Russia, China and India, and strengthen threats by the USA and NATO, as well as by Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Israel, in the area.

As we speak, US aeroplanes are massing in the area and the base in Souda, Greece, has been mobilised. Consideration is being given to the imposition of a no-fly zone, on the pretext of responsibility for civilian protection, the same pretext as that used in other imperialist interventions. The United States, NATO and the European Union and states in the area are interfering in the internal affairs of Syria, engaging in disinformation activities and using the conflict to justify a new imperialist war. Developments in Syria come in the wake of the occupation of Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.

We also condemn the decisions by NATO which, on the pretext of NATO solidarity with Turkey, is leading the imperialist armada against Syria, in the aim of striking a strategic blow against Iran. Sanctions are being stepped up and the European Union is threatening open military intervention if they imperialist plans to overturn the Syrian Government are not passed.

As we all know, decisions to impose an embargo on Iranian oil took effect on 1 July and will have horrendous consequences. Developments in Syria are a matter for the Syrian people. Nations need to oppose intervention by the European Union and NATO and overturn these imperialist plans.

 
  
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  Saïd El Khadraoui (S&D).(NL) Mr President, there is just no end to the horrors in Syria, and the international community seems to be watching on powerlessly.

I do not know whether we should regard the meeting in Geneva last weekend as a success. Trying to reach some kind of transitional arrangement with representatives of the current regime and the opposition would seem to be the only real option, as the alternative, clearly, is a bloody civil war. However, the casualness of the statements about this is disturbing. We need to find a way to get the regime and the opposition around the table.

I also agree 100% with Mr Brok when he says that it is obviously an essential prerequisite for success, and for the opposition to succeed, that it must speak with one voice, be able to describe one vision of the future of Syria and also be able to come across as reassuring to those who are still wavering in their support for the regime.

I would thus like to ask that we continue to apply pressure so that real talks can take place.

 
  
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  Corina Creţu (S&D).(RO) Mr President, the situation in Syria is deteriorating, in spite of the international efforts to achieve a negotiated solution, acceptable to the conflicting parties. The tension is likely to be heightened further following the shooting down of a Turkish military aircraft by Syria’s air defence system. Innocent people are dying every day, victims of an actual civil war, of unimaginable atrocities which no longer have anything to do with the desire of Syrians to live in democracy and freedom. Supplying arms to the sides involved makes the situation even more dangerous. I feel obliged to mention the persecution of the members of the Christian community, which gives the conflict a gruesome dimension. Unfortunately, Russia and China are maintaining an inflexible position. They do not accept any solution which would be tantamount to a change of political regime, and I agree with what has been said in this Chamber, the idea that it is vital for us to fulfil our responsibility of protecting the victims.

I welcome the firm, principled position adopted by the European Union, which is taking coherent action in order to find peaceful solutions. No effort must be spared in promoting direct negotiations between the government and opposition, against the background of an end to hostilities.

 
  
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  Carmen Romero López (S&D).(ES) Mr President, one of the points in Kofi Annan’s plan is the withdrawal of the army to its barracks. Indeed, the line of demilitarising the conflict is the line that all countries are now following, with the intention of avoiding the war that is now happening.

It is true that we need to work to ensure that the opposition is unified. Here in Parliament we have hosted members of the Syrian National Council, to whom we conveyed the need for a united strategy. It is very important, however, that the pressure from the European Union regarding the prohibition of weapons and military equipment should be a reality.

How is this being monitored, President-in-Office of the Council? What information does the European Union have about compliance with that ban? What arsenal does Bashar al Assad currently have stored away?

It is true that Russian ships may be transporting weapons, because it is difficult to negotiate with Russia. It is therefore very important that, as well as being sure that the army will really return to its barracks, we also know exactly what weapons it has.

 
  
 

Catch-the-eye procedure

 
  
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  Bogusław Sonik (PPE). - (PL) Mr President, we are all shocked by what is happening in Syria. The key to a solution and to avoiding further bloodshed is, of course, action under the aegis of the UN Security Council. It therefore has to be stated clearly that the current impasse is due to Russia and China blocking any effective action. It would appear to me that European Union efforts should focus on this issue. We cannot ignore the fact that it is the authorities in Moscow that could bring about an immediate end to the massacre of civilians. So far these efforts have been unsuccessful. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs is going through the motions of doing something, he makes references to the situation in Libya. For this reason, international pressure on Moscow is the only method that can be effective in making Russia take concrete steps to prevent murder in Syria.

 
  
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  Marielle de Sarnez (ALDE).(FR) Mr President, although each and every one of us may have doubts about whether or not we can resolve the issue through diplomacy or politics, we must obviously do everything in our power to resolve it and to ensure that, hopefully, the Geneva Agreement is implemented.

Meanwhile, we must support the Syrian opposition, do everything that we can for its unity, its union and its togetherness, act in response to the humanitarian crisis – which is what you are doing – and shed light, full light on what is happening in Syria, as was rightly requested and demanded by the UN High Commissioner.

Following the shocking findings of the NGOs – you have all read the report ‘Torture Archipelago’ – I think we really need to think about how the UN Security Council works. As far as I am concerned, when it comes to condemning crimes against humanity, there should be no right of veto or block, and it should be done straight away.

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR). - Mr President, Syrian opposition leaders now claim that 15 000 people have lost their lives in this tragic conflict, which has dragged on for nearly a year and a half now. Recent defections from Assad’s armed forces testify to the regime’s continuing loss of support, even sometimes from the Alawite component.

The Syrian National Council, with its Islamist components and other strictly secular opposition groups, must now show a fully united front against the brutal repression of the Baathist Assad regime, as this would aid in ceasing the conflict, which is fast taking on the characteristics of an all-out civil war. The High Representative of the EU must give her full backing for the agreement reached at Geneva to allow for a transitional national unity government, minus President Assad, which will pave the way for democratic elections.

The Annan Plan may yet prove to be a success. I take this opportunity also to thank Turkey for all its help with the refugees and I send my condolences to the family of the pilot who was lost, shot down by the Syrian air defence system.

This is a tragedy. We must do all we can to bring about the end of that ghastly regime in Damascus.

(The speaker agreed to take a blue-card question under Rule 149(8))

 
  
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  Richard Howitt (S&D), blue-card question. I know the honourable gentleman made his statement in all sincerity but can I ask him why the government of our country, led by his party, has not joined the Czechs, the Estonians, the Finns, the Germans, the Irish and the Slovenians, in specifically calling for that reference to the International Criminal Court?

It could be argued that delay creates a space for a negotiated solution. However, it has not: it has created a vacuum for continued and intensified violations. Why has Britain not made that call?

 
  
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  Charles Tannock (ECR), blue-card answer. Mr Howitt knows full well that I do not speak for the British Government. It is a coalition government and I am not accountable for the actions of the British Foreign Office or the British Prime Minister.

All I can say is that I would be very happy to see President Assad tried before the International Criminal Court, but it may well be an expedient thing to give Assad some ‘wriggle room’ to leave office. If he knows he is about to be tried and arraigned before the ICC he may be tempted to stay in power and cause even further bloodshed.

So I suspect the reason – I have no prior knowledge – is to actually give some possible way out for Assad to leave Damascus and go into exile. I am only guessing though.

 
  
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  Bastiaan Belder (EFD).(NL) Mr President, I would like to put two points to the Council, the representatives of the High Representative, against the dramatic backdrop of the situation in Syria. I would like to ask for European support for the peaceful local popular movement Musalaha, which means reconciliation, reconciliation from below, interreligious, interethnic. I hope that this also obtains the support and the attention of the EU delegation in Damascus. That was my first point.

My second point is that, in a previous debate about Syria in plenary, I asked for European eyes and minds to be focused on the extraordinarily perilous situation of Syrian Christians. If you have been reading about what is currently happening in Homs, where hundreds of Christians are like rats in a trap, along with a similar number of Sunnis, you may also have been reading – and I am getting more and more reports – about kidnappings for exorbitant ransoms and then more cold-blooded death squads targeting Christians, and I am sure you understand that we are talking about a truly critical and dramatic situation. I hope that the European Union is also alive to this, above all within Syria, and does not concentrate too much of its attention on the opposition in exile.

 
  
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  Franz Obermayr (NI).(DE) Mr President, for months we have been hearing the horrific reports of torture, murder and killings and it would seem that there is still no solution in prospect. Humanitarian aid is important and helpful; however this is not a solution in itself. The regime is not the only problem, however. Radical Islamist forces have taken control of the clearly fractured opposition and, sponsored by ultra-conservative groups in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, are obviously steering politics in this direction. It is no coincidence that the opposition only met yesterday with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. I understand the fear among the minorities and also the fear of the 15% Christian population in Syria. For this reason, we must come to the assistance of the Syrian people quickly. I believe that an orderly transition will be impossible without the intensive inclusion of Russia, in particular. Above all, I would warn against trying to find a solution with a policy of tanks and bombs. The chaos in Iraq and Libya should warn against this.

 
  
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  Kristiina Ojuland (ALDE). - Mr President, I would like to welcome the outcome of the meeting of the Action Group for Syria and its support for the Kofi Annan peace plan. A disastrous civil war, which will affect the whole region, is not an alternative to diplomacy. I hope that all the members of the Action Group dedicate their efforts to implementing the final communiqué. The fighting parties must stop all violence so that negotiations about the future of the people of Syria can start. The Syrian opposition parties must have a mutual understanding and a sense of responsibility towards the Syrian people in order to be able to start the process of forming a transitional government.

I therefore encourage the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and the European External Action Service to insist that all Syrian opposition movements, representing the various religious, ethnic and political groups, are invited to the negotiations so that a sustainable regime transition can take place.

 
  
 

(End of the catch-the-eye procedure)

 
  
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  Andreas Mavroyiannis, President-in-Office of the Council, on behalf of the Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. Mr President, many speakers made reference to respect for minorities, in particular religious, and more particularly, Christian minorities. I want to assure you that we support all groups which are working for peace and we are closely watching the situation of each and every one of the several communities that exist in Syria, which of course also means Christian communities.

There is also no doubt that human rights are being violated in Syria.

I think we all know how important the International Criminal Court is, that it is an achievement of the international community and how much we believe in accountability, but it is true that the reference to the International Criminal Court has been made both in Geneva and New York, where discussions on the drafting of a new resolution are ongoing. This question was at the centre of a debate among Member States on the opportunity and the timing of such a reference.

At the moment, as we are all trying to give new momentum to Kofi Annan’s mission and to secure Russia and China’s support for the new action group and its new road map, we have all agreed to avoid at this stage – I underline, at this stage – any controversial issue, but we will certainly have to come back to the issue of the International Criminal Court.

We have listened with great interest to this very important debate – my good friend the Executive Secretary-General of the European External Action Service, Pierre Vimont, and I – and we will report back to High Representative/Vice-President Ashton.

We look forward to further discussions on the situation in Syria in the weeks and months to come, as the transition process unfolds. We will keep you updated on EU action in this regard. With your support we hope that the international actions will bear fruit and stop the repression and violence in Syria and allow for a peaceful and democratic transition.

Honourable Members, I would like to thank you for your support, questions and concerns. They all contribute to defining EU policies in response to the Syrian crisis. We invite you to remain engaged so that all our resources and ideas are used to the maximum.

I was asked a question relating to my national capacity as the representative of the Government of Cyprus on the issue of sanctions and the specific issue of the vessel Chariot. I would like to say – and I say this in my national capacity, not on behalf of the High Representative – that Cyprus respects and fully implements the arms embargo in place against Syria and other sanctioned countries. It further stresses the importance of cooperation between Member States for a more effective implementation of the arms embargo and demonstrates its readiness to initiate the relevant discussion in the appropriate fora to determine the best practices.

As far as the case that has arisen with the vessel Chariot is concerned, I should like to point out the following. The port authorities of Cyprus had received reassurances from the captain of the ship and from the ship-owning company that the final destination of the cargo was İskenderun in Turkey and not Syria. We all know what happened afterwards.

Following this event both the port police of Cyprus and the customs authorities issued new circulars reminding all their personnel and all ship-owning companies of the existing restrictive measures and sanctions against third countries, in particular, Syria and Iran, and warning them of legal consequences in case of non-compliance.

The Cyprus port authority has already given instructions to its lawyers to instigate criminal proceedings against the ship-owning company and the captain of the ship Chariot.

The Republic of Cyprus stresses its full commitment to the enforcement of European Union measures and of Security Council sanctions against third countries. We remain vigilant and alert to fully implement the European Union arms embargo in place for Syria and other authoritarian regimes.

In so doing, Cyprus looks forward to the constructive cooperation of our European Union partners by sharing information, knowledge and experience and affirms its readiness to contribute to the collective international efforts of enhancing the non-proliferation of arms in dual-use goods and technologies, as well as promoting peace, security and stability in the wider region.

This becomes all the more important, bearing in mind that Cyprus’s geographic proximity to the current turbulent region of the Middle East and North Africa, as well as our position as a shipping hub, necessitates enhanced surveillance in the efforts to enforce EU restrictive measures and Security Council sanctions.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Tunne Kelam (PPE), in writing. The Action Group for Syria is committed to ensuring full implementation of the six-point plan and Security Council resolutions 2042 and 2043. However, the key to breakthrough is Russia. The EU should ask Russia to unconditionally halt any arms export to Syria. It is unacceptable in principle that a strategic partner of the EU continues to block any serious action towards a peaceful settlement and continues exporting arms to a regime that has been systematically murdering its own citizens for more than one year.

It is ironic that Russia claims to accept only peaceful international intervention, whereas it uses brutal force in Chechnya and against peaceful manifestations of internal opposition.

May I add a piece of practical advice? The EU could strengthen its position on Syria if it first made Mr Putin honour fully the August 2008 agreement on Georgia by insisting that there will be no further progress in mutual relations until Moscow admits EU observers to the occupied Georgian territories. Instead of timidly begging Mr Putin for almost four years to comply with his own commitments the EU has more than enough power to say: no further progress until you behave according to international law.

 
  
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  Fiorello Provera (EFD), in writing.(IT) Under the Geneva agreement, Russia too has accepted the need for a compromise based on a transition process agreed by the government and by the rebels, whereby the opposition and Mr Assad’s regime would have to share power. At this point it is important to ensure opposition unity on a shared political platform, at least on some key points. We must avoid the Balkanisation of the conflict and its degeneration into combat between ethnic or religious groups.

The future must bring a secular, democratic and tolerant Syrian society. Unfortunately, however, there has been recent news of attacks on the Christian community, which fuels fears of possible persecution by a new theocratic and Islamic fundamentalist regime in Syria. Europe must do everything it can to ensure that what happens in Egypt with the Coptic Christian community or in Libya between the various clans also happens in Syria.

 
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