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Originally published Friday, April 19, 2013 at 5:05 AM

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Diplomats: EU set to ease Syria oil embargo

The European Union is set to ease its oil embargo on Syria to bolster the forces fighting to oust President Bashar Assad's regime, two diplomats said Friday.

Associated Press

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BRUSSELS —

The European Union is set to ease its oil embargo on Syria to bolster the forces fighting to oust President Bashar Assad's regime, two diplomats said Friday.

The decision would allow the import of oil production technology and the sale of crude from territory held by the Syrian opposition, in close coordination with the movement's leaders, they said.

The diplomats spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of a formal decision by the bloc's 27 foreign ministers at a meeting Monday in Luxembourg.

The move will mark the first easing of the EU's sanctions in two years as governments seek ways to support the opposition to help ease shortages of vital supplies in areas held by the rebels.

Some EU members, such as Britain and France, are also pushing to lift the bloc's arms embargo against Syria to allow weapons shipments to the rebels. But other major EU players, such as Germany, remain opposed to that step, fearing it might set off a regional arms race that could further inflame the conflict.

The arms embargo expires May 30 and the EU foreign ministers aren't expected to make a decision on it before their next meeting in May, the diplomats said.

The oil exports, in turn, could open an important revenue stream for Syria's opposition. The diplomats acknowledged that it was still unclear when and how much crude could be exported, due to the volatile security situation.

Syria's oil industry has been breaking down as the rebels have captured many of the country's oil fields, with wells aflame and looters scooping up crude - depriving the government of much-needed cash and fuel for its war machine fighting the two-year-old uprising.

Before the uprising, the oil sector was a pillar of Syria's economy, with the country producing about 380,000 barrels a day and exports - mostly to Europe - bringing in more than $3 billion in 2010. Oil revenues provided around a quarter of the funds for the national budget.

The government has not released recent production figures but exports have ground practically to a standstill, and Assad's regime has been forced to import refined fuel supplies to keep up with demand amid shortages and rising prices.

Imports of fuel or crude to Syria have not been targeted by the sanctions.

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