x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Turkey follows Arab League by imposing sanctions against Syria

Sanctions are designed to hurt regime, not people, Ankara says, as officials linked to violence will be barred and Syrian central bank relations frozen.

Ahmet Davutoglu, pictured announcing the sanctions, said his country wants a joint future with the Syrian people.
Ahmet Davutoglu, pictured announcing the sanctions, said his country wants a joint future with the Syrian people.

ISTANBUL // Turkey yesterday announced its economic, financial and political sanctions against Damascus, accusing Bashar Al Assad's government of turning a deaf ear to repeated appeals to stop the violence against protesters.

Turkey's list of sanctions followed a similar package by the Arab League. They were announced by Ahmet Davutoglu, the foreign minister, who told reporters during a televised statement in Ankara that Syria's government had ignored all appeals for reform and left the international community with no choice but to act.

Mr Davutoglu stressed the sanctions were designed to hurt the regime, not the people.

"We strongly believe that we will share a joint future with the Syrian people and that we will build this joint future together," he said.

Turkey will cut relations with Syria's central bank, freeze loan agreements with the government, stop cooperation with Syria's trade bank and suspend financing of infrastructure projects by Turkey's foreign trade bank.

Mr Davutoglu also said Syrian officials involved in the violence against protesters would be barred from Turkey and their assets frozen. Similar steps would be taken against Syrian businessmen known as supporters of the regime.

Turkey also suspended the High Level Strategic Cooperation Council with Syria, a body that had ensured cooperation between the governments before the start of the uprising against Mr Al Assad in March.

Mr Davutoglu's list of sanctions included Turkey's earlier decision to stop arms sales and to block delivery of weapons.

Political reform was the only way the Syrian government could "save itself from the dead-end street" it had entered by relying on violence, he said.

"We are concerned about the Syrian people and about the region," Mr Davutoglu said.

Ankara has been sceptical of sanctions in other cases, such as the row over Iran's nuclear programme, arguing they are a blunt, largely ineffective weapon.

That makes this decision all the more remarkable, said Semih Idiz, a foreign policy columnist for Turkey's Milliyet newspaper.

"It is the first time that Turkey goes along with sanctions. The government has so far been against the principle of sanctions," Mr Idiz told The National yesterday. "The sanctions are very much in line with the Arab League, and that shows that Turkey is not acting unilaterally, but multilaterally."

Mr Davutoglu's insistence that the sanctions are directed only against the government in Damascus, and not against the people of Syria, came after another minister had talked about possibly cutting water and electricity supplies to Syria.

Taner Yildiz, the energy minister, said last month that Turkey was considering cutting energy exports to Syria.

But President Abdullah Gul, who was consulted on the sanctions along with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, told reporters yesterday that water and electricity supplies would not be affected by the sanctions.

"Turkey is very careful here," Mr Gul said at a news conference. "Vital and humanitarian issues like water and power will not be included in those measure. I want the whole world and the Syrians to know this."

Trade between Turkey and Syria was US$2.8 billion (Dh10.2bn) last year; Turkish exports to Syria accounted for $1.8bn of that. Turkish companies doing business with Syria have warned that sanctions could hurt the Turkish side as well.

Mr Erdogan's government has grown increasingly critical of the Syrian regime, culminating last week with him calling for Mr Al Assad to resign.

Ankara has also stepped up its support for the Syrian opposition in exile, allowing the Syrian National Congress (SNC) to be established in Istanbul and offering protection to Syrian army defectors who have set up the Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighting against government troops inside Syria. Members of the SNC and the FSA met in a camp in Hatay, on the Turkish side of the countries' border, this week, a Turkish diplomat said.

The Turkish-based English language daily Hurriyet Daily News reported that the SNC offered its support to the defectors.

tseibert@thenational.ae