The European Union (EU) introduced Monday a new set of economic sanctions against Syria, which, defiant in front of economic woes, has just announced to allocate billions of pounds as damages for the losses of private properties.
The EU has agreed to impose assets freeze and travel bans on additional 28 Syrian individuals and two firms at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, bringing the number of individuals blacklisted by EU countries to 181 and the number of companies to 54. The step is seen as another attempt to squeeze the Syrian government and hasten its collapse.
As the sanctions have succeeded in shriveling Syria's already- sluggish economy and drying up its lifelines -- tourism and oil industry, doubts have been cast on the Syrian government's ability to handle the pressing conditions and survive the storm.
The new set of sanctions coincided with a new revelation by the Syrian government about its economic losses stemming from the 19- month-long crisis and the overpowering international economic sanctions.
Syrian Transport Minister Mahmoud Said told government-run al- Thawra newspaper Monday that the crisis has caused big "but not huge" losses in the transportation sector, noting that the losses amounted to 3.25 billion Syrian pounds (about 47.4 million U.S. dollars).
Also, Electricity Minister Imad Khameis said losses of the electricity sector have been estimated at 10 billion pounds (about 146 million dollars).
However, he said that although the sector has been targeted by armed groups, it is able to supply electricity to most of Syrian cities and towns.
Khameis added that by 2015, the ministry would put in service four projects for power generation to cover the market's needs.
The sanctions have hit hard the oil sector and caused widespread fuel shortages. Supplies of diesel and cooking gas were running short because of the sanctions.
Syrian Oil Minister Said Hneidi said the size of damage at the oil establishments stood at 5 billion pounds (about 73 million dollars), adding that losses because of halting oil exports have totaled at 200 billion pounds (2.92 billion dollars).
The minister noted that the crisis and the "outrageous" economic sanctions have closed down the implementation of some oil and gas projects, mainly a petroleum refinery project at al- Faraklos area in central Syria that is capable of processing 150, 000 barrels a day.
The project was planned to be constructed with the help of Venezuela and Iran.
Despite the economic woes, the Syrian government insists that its reserve of hard currency is intact, brushing aside allegations that Iran, its main strategic ally, is assisting it.
Syrian deputy prime minister for the services affairs, Omar Ghalawenji, said the government has allocated billions of Syrian pounds to compensate for the damage caused to private properties because of "terrorist acts" nationwide that have caused big losses in all the business sectors in the country.
Ghalawenji's remarks, made during a cabinet meeting on Sunday, were seemingly meant to indicate that the government is still solid and capable of addressing its own economic woes and reimbursing for losses.
He said 1 billion pounds (14.6 million dollars) has been allocated for this year and there will be 30 billion pounds (438 million dollars) for the next year.
The EU also took further steps in respect of arms, prohibiting the import into the EU of arms from Syria, or any EU involvement in the transport of Syrian arms.
It also banned EU nationals and enterprises from supplying financial services to Syrian arms exports, including insurance and re-insurance. "No EU citizens or companies must be involved in Syrian military cooperation with third countries, which could benefit the Syrian regime," said an EU conclusion.
"The EU warns against further militarization of the conflict," said EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton following the adoption of the conclusion. "We call on all states to refrain from delivering arms to Syria and to follow the EU in stopping the supplies that fuel the fighting," she said.
Syrian army denies using cluster bombs against armed rebels
The general command of the Syrian army denied on Monday the army's use of cluster bombs in its fights against the armed rebels, furthermore denying the army's possession of such bombs, according to the state-run SANA news agency.
"Such news reports are untrue and the army doesn't have such bombs," the general command was quoted as saying.
It said that some misleading media outlets have taken pains recently to disseminate "those false reports" that the Syrian army is using cluster bombs in its fights against the "armed terrorist groups," a term used by the government to brand the armed rebels.
"Since the Syrian army is not in possession of such bombs, hence we stress that the news are totally baseless ... and aims to divert the public opinion from what the armed terrorist gangs are committing against the homeland and the citizens," the general command said.
The Syrian denial has come against the backdrop of a recent report by the Human Rights Watch that cited activists' videos and testimonies that the Syrian army has used those bombs in its offensives against the rebels in some Syrian areas.
The cluster bomb is an indiscriminate scattershot munitions banned by most nations.