The Envoy
  • EU bans import of Syrian oil

    The European Union issued a ban on imports of Syrian oil Friday, in what many Syrian analysts believe may be the international community's most significant measure yet to protest Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's crackdown on anti-government unrest.

    "In view of the gravity of the situation in Syria, the Council today further tightened the EU's sanctions against that country and imposed a ban on the import of Syrian oil to the EU," the 27-nation European Union said in a press release Friday. "The prohibition concerns purchase, import and transport of oil and other petroleum products from Syria. No financial or insurance services may be provided for such transactions."

    Analysts estimate such sanctions can do real damage to the Damascus regime's economic standing, especially in view of two key facts: Syrian oil exports account for one-third of the Assad government's revenues; and four European countries account for an astonishingly high 90 percent of Syria's oil exports.

    The "EU ban on import of oil from Syria will truly bite," Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on Twitter Friday after the EU decision. "We are serious."

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  • Libyan rebel Tripoli military commander Abdel Hakim Belhaj in Tripoli Aug. 31, 2011. (Francois Mori/AP)The top Libyan rebel military commander in Tripoli, Abdel Hakim Belhaj, dropped something of a bombshell in an interview with the New York Times yesterday: In  2004, he said, two CIA agents tortured him in Thailand and then "rendered" him to Libya. From that point on, he maintains, he was held in solitary confinement for the next six years.

    "Yes, [Belhaj] said, he was detained by Malaysian officials in 2004 on arrival at the Kuala Lumpur airport, where he was subjected to extraordinary rendition on behalf of the United States, and sent to Thailand," the New York Times' Rod Norland writes. "In Bangkok, Mr. Belhaj said, he was tortured for a few days by two people he said were CIA agents, and then, worse, they repatriated him to Libya, where he was thrown into solitary confinement for six years."

    Now, Belhaj heads the Libyan rebels' military committee for restoring order in the capital of Tripoli.

    A spokeswoman for the CIA told The Envoy Thursday the agency declined to comment on Belhaj's allegations.

    But the allegations point to the challenge facing Western diplomatic officials in Libya: How much does the West know about the influential faction of the Libyan rebels with past Islamist jihadi ties? And how will such ties affect the effort to safeguard U.S. interests in a post-Gadhafi Libya?

    The scholar Omar Ashour summed up the dilemma in an article this week informed by his interview with Belhaj last year: "Does his prominent role mean that jihadists are set to exploit the fall of Qadhafi's regime?"

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  • Gadhafi urges resistance in defiant audio speech

    Moammar Gadhafi made his last public appearance in Tripoli in June. (AP)Where's Moammar Gadhafi? As the Libyan rebels took their manhunt for the former Libyan dictator to his latest suspected hideout in the desert town of Bani Walid, a defiant Gadhafi vowed resistance in an audio interview aired Thursday by Syria-based broadcaster al-Rai.

    "Let there be a long fight and let Libya be engulfed in flames," Gadhafi said in the audio message, Al Jazeera reported.

    "We will not give up," he vowed. "We are not women. We will continue fighting."

    Gadhafi's call to arms came as Libyan opposition leaders met Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and European and Arab foreign ministers in Paris for a meeting of the international Contact Group on Libya. The Contact Group has been coordinating the international intervention in the north African nation since the imposition of a NATO-led no-fly zone in the country in March.

    The UN is preparing a civilian mission to Libya to assist with preparations for elections, post-conflict humanitarian, reconstruction and state-building efforts.

    Earlier Thursday, a Libyan rebel military commander in Tripoli, Abdel Majid Mlegta, told Reuters the rebels are increasingly focusing their manhunt for Gadhafi and his son Seif al-Islam on the town of Bani Walid, some 100 miles southeast of Tripoli.

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