Clinton calls for wider boycott of Syria's oil

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The Independent Online

The Obama administration yesterday urged governments to stop buying Syrian oil in an attempt to cripple the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

At a meeting with Norway's Foreign Minister, Hillary Clinton ramped up the US's rhetoric by encouraging the world to "get on the right side of history". "President Assad has lost the legitimacy to lead and it is clear that Syria would be better off without him," she said after the meeting in Washington.

Oil receipts account for about a third of the Syrian government's revenues. A third of the regime's oil is refined by European nations, and any decision by EU leaders to halt imports would seriously weaken Syria's economy. Since the regime began its bloody crackdown against the protest movement, American and European leaders have issued a raft of sanctions against Assad and his inner circle. But analysts have repeatedly said that targeting Syria's energy reserves would be the most effective way to hurt Syria's president.

Yesterday the Dutch Foreign Minister said the EU may decide to extend its sanctions against President Assad. Uri Rosenthal has been lobbying other European leaders to broaden sanctions to include the telecommunications, banking and energy sectors.

Ms Clinton's call to target the Syrian economy will heap yet further pressure on Damascus, coming just a few days after Arab leaders began to turn their backs on Mr Assad. Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Kuwait all announced earlier in the week that they would withdraw their ambassadors from Syria.

Joshua Landis, who runs the Syria Comment news website, said the White House policy on Syria revolved around trying to "herd cats", roping as many unwilling countries as possible into taking action. He said: "They don't want to get in front on this. They are trying to get the Europeans and regional powers to make orchestrated statements to say: 'It's over.'"

Ms Clinton's appeal came on a day that demonstrators again poured onto the streets across Syria to demand the end of President Assad's government. In spite of brutal army operations launched at the beginning of Ramadan, tens of thousands of demonstrators marched through towns and cities demanding his ousting – and even execution. At least 11 people were killed, including five from the suburbs of Damascus, one in the central city of Homs, and another in Hama, which the government claimed it had brought under its control this week after tanks and troops stormed the city on 1 August.

Another protester was reported dead in the eastern city of Deir el-Zour, which itself was subjected to heavy shelling and machine gun this week as the military attempted to quell protesters. "There are security checkpoints every 200 meters – they have lists and they're searching people... the mosques are surrounded by soldiers," a Hama-based activist told the Associated Press news agency by telephone.

A statement from the Local Co-Ordination Committees, which monitors the protest movements across Syria, said pro-government militiamen in the Damascus suburbs had fired on a funeral procession.

"Five people were killed by bullets of the security forces, one of them is a 16-year-old child," the organisation said.

The Syrian regime has struggled to contain a nationwide uprising which began 19 weeks ago in the country's rural south and has since spread to scores of other towns and cities.

Human-rights groups say more than 2,000 civilians have been killed during the violence, which officials have blamed on "armed groups" and "terrorists".

What now for Syria?

Scenario 1

Assad holds on to power

What would happen?

After months of waging a brutal campaign of oppression against his own people, President Bashar al-Assad finally succeeds in cowing the protest movement. The weekly protest demonstrations begin to falter, order is restored in the country and a harsh security backlash begins against those communities who have openly defied him for many months.

How likely is it?

Currently one of the least likely scenarios. Despite Assad's security forces shooting dead more than 2,000 protesters and arresting many thousands more, the weekly demonstrations have not abated. Even if he did cling on, analysts believe Syria has changed for good.

Expert View

"Assad could try and stuff this giant genie back into the regime's small and still unreformed bottle. But as the protesters have shown, the genie will keep coming out anyway. There will be chaos in this scenario."

Andrew Tabler, Syria analyst

Scenario 2

The regime collapses suddenly

What would happen?

Faced with increasingly harsh sanctions from the West and with Arab states turning away in disgust at the bloodshed, the 41-year rule of the Assad family collapses.

How likely is it?

Not very. For President Assad's regime to crumble would also require the destruction of his Alawite support base. There is no reason why they would willingly lay their own heads on the block.

Expert View

"This is the great hope of everybody, but I don't foresee a sudden collapse. States collapse if the elites no longer believe in them. I just don't see the Alawites throwing down their arms and running to the hills."

Joshua Landis, Syria Comment website editor

Scenario 3

Assad clings on but is finally forced out

What would happen?

With support for Bashar al-Assad's evaporating both at home and around the world, an establishment figure – who would most likely be an officer from the Alawite sect – seizes power from within.

How likely is it?

With Assad's credibility severely dented, many in his inner circle might see this as the only way of maintaining the Alawite grip on power. But it is unlikely that many protesters would accept anything less than a clear break with the past.

Expert View

"So far President Bashar al-Assad still has the

support of the military and intelligence, but if some people feel that his government is falling down, then a senior figure in the military might attempt a coup and we could see the end of the regime."

Rime Allaf, a Chatham House Syria expert

Scenario 4

Civil war breaks out

What would happen?

Syria is a nation riven by sect. From the Kurds to the Christians and Druze Muslims to Shia Alawites, the smattering of different creeds and ethnicities could turn on each other in a Lebanese-style civil war that would wrench the country apart.

How likely is it?

The Assad regime draws most of its power base from the President's minority Alawite sect. The army officers and intelligence chiefs will not readily relinquish control – unless they are forced to at gunpoint. This is the most dreaded scenario.

Expert View

"I don't see Bashar al-Assad giving up. Even if a lot of his support melts away, he still has a lot of power and his regime can shoot a lot of people. The opposition, which until now has been peaceful, in that case would have to get armed."

Joshua Landis, Syria Comment website editor