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EU body seeks closer ties with Syria


EU body seeks closer ties with Syria

Members of European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee vote to strengthen cooperation with Damascus, support signing association agreement with country. Agreement could give 'a decisive impetus to political, economic and social reforms in Syria and would facilitate the Middle East peace process,' committee states AFP

The European parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee has voted to deepen cooperation with Syria and ultimately sign an association agreement.

"We stress the problems of human rights, we stress the Hariri enquiry, on the other hand we think that if Syria has decided to have another policy than its past attitude in the Middle East then that would be something very good for us," EU parliament member Veronique De Keyser, who prepared the resolution, told AFP on Friday.

A UN investigation commission into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri is underway, with many pointing the finger at Syria.

The move towards closer ties with Damascus was also facilitated by Syria's military withdrawal from Lebanon.

The West's policy of isolating Syria has done all but that, but instead has strengthened its ties with Russia and Iran, she said.

'Respect for democratic values – a prerequisite'
The measure to urge the 25 EU nations to move towards an association agreement, which has been pending for almost two years, was passed overwhelmingly in the committee by 34 to one, with two abstentions.

EU parliament members pointed out that an association agreement could give "a decisive impetus to political, economic and social reforms in Syria and would facilitate the Middle East peace process."

But they also stressed "that respect for democratic values, human rights and civil liberties are prerequisites," according to an official statement released Friday.

The human rights clause to the agreement should also include an effective verification mechanism.
The EU parliament members were particularly concerned by the lack of progress in Syria in democratization and the respect for human rights and civil liberties.

The resolution specifically calls on Syria to respect Lebanon's sovereignty and to prevent Hizbullah from rearming.

Support for Hamas concerning
Members of the European parliament are equally concerned about Syrian support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad and they called on Syria to adopt a more positive approach to the status of the contested Shebaa Farms.

Parliament members also urged Syria to respect freedom of expression and the rights of religious and other minorities, protect human rights defenders, prevent torture and abolish the death penalty.

The association agreement is part of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership and covers economic, social and cultural cooperation, including provisions relating to intellectual property, services, public procurement, competition rules,

"There is a strong requirement to fight against terrorism and for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons," said De Keyser, during last-minute campaigning ahead of Sunday's Belgian municipal elections.

"For us it is good, for Syria it could be not bad."