The FINANCIAL -- The European
Union on Monday rounded on Syria for downing a Turkish fighter jet while
warning of the dangers of military escalation ahead of NATO talks on
the incident the following day.
Foreign ministers from the 27-nation bloc meeting in Luxembourg also stepped up the pressure on President Bashar al-Assad's regime, agreeing a 16th round of sanctions, this time targeting the civil service, diplomatic sources said.
Joining his EU counterparts for the first time, France's new Socialist minister Laurent Fabius blasted Damascus for shooting down a Turkish F-4 phantom jet Friday.
"This plane was not carrying arms and was on a routine flight and was shot down ... there was no prior warning, therefore this is completely unacceptable," Fabius said.
Germany's Guido Westerwelle, likewise deeming the Syrian move "unacceptable", praised Ankara for "reacting in very calm manner" and said it was "important that all forces understand that de-escalation is now decisive."
On Turkey's request, NATO will hold an emergency meeting on the matter in Brussels on Tuesday.
"Turkey has requested consultations under Article 4" of NATO 's founding treaty under which member countries can request a meeting if their security is threatened, NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said this weekend.
"Under Article 4, any ally can request consultations whenever, in the opinion of any of them, their territorial integrity, political independence or security is threatened," she added.
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, who also expressed concern over the incident, said as she went into the talks: "We'll be looking to Turkey to be restrained in its response."
EU diplomats have long warned against military options in the Syrian crisis and have been working for weeks on helping to build a credible opposition to Assad in order to find a political road out of the bloodshed.
Sweden's Carl Bildt, just back from a tour of the region with EU counterparts, reiterated the bloc's stand that a political solution was the sole current option.
"The further the violence goes on and the militarisation of the conflict, the more difficult it will be to avoid an outcome that could well result in sectarian fragmentation of the entire region, with devastating consequences in the years to come," he said.
Bildt said the sanctions slapped on Damascus since the onset of civil unrest early last year were having "an indirect longterm effect" on the regime by slowing the economy.
In Monday's fresh round of restrive measures, the EU imposed an asset freeze and travel ban against six government ministries and one individual, while clarifying an existing EU arms embargo.
The identities of those targeted will be detailed on Tuesday.
Also adopted was a specific ban on insuring items embargoed for delivery to Syria, including arms shipments.
The measure follows an incident some days ago involving a British-insured Russian cargo ship carrying attack helicopters for Syria.
According to EUbusiness , the United States alerted Britain to the consignment and British security services told insurers Standard Club that providing insurance for the shipment would breach EU sanctions, reports said.
Standard Club then cancelled insurance for the ship as well as others in the fleet owned by Russian cargo line Femco, forcing the vessel to head home.