The Firm That Keeps Heating Fuel Flowing to Assad’s Syria
Oil traders arranging millions of dollars worth of fuel shipments to Syria sit in the office of a little-known firm in Greece.
The fuel, liquid petroleum gas for cooking and domestic heating, is not covered by international sanctions against the government of President Bashar al-Assad, but some critics charge that by keeping the supplies flowing the firm, Naftomar, may be lessening the risk to Assad of a wider revolt.
One of the traders is a U.S. national. Some of the fuel shipped from floating tanks in the Mediterranean may come from Saudi Arabia, a critic of Assad’s crackdown on his opponents. This is possible because Naftomar stores and mixes fuel from many different suppliers in the Mediterranean.
International sanctions do not apply to liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) for humanitarian reasons. Indeed, by providing heating and cooking fuel the firm says it may well be preventing an even worse disaster in a country where a year of violence has already claimed over 7,500 lives, according to U.N. estimates.
“We would tend to feel that it is unfair to deny such a basic commodity as LPG to consumers as part of a political statement. Currently there is no embargo to supply LPG to Syria which we believe is for humanitarian reasons,” Naftomar director J.C. Heard said in a statement. Some critics charge that by delivering the fuel, worth at least $55 million each month, Naftomar may be helping to extend Assad’s rule. “We advise anyone that is cooperating with the regime right now to stop supporting it. Traders or otherwise, we advise them to take a firm stance against Bashar al-Assad,” said Melhem Al-Droubi from the opposition Syrian National Council. “At some point we are going to give a notice period to these people and after that if they don’t take a position, they will be considered partners in killing and partners in the repression of the Syrian people,” he said. Old allies Russia and Venezuela still send cargoes of other fuels, including diesel which can be used to run army tanks [ID:nL5E8E22NT] [ID:nL2E8DS0A0]. But imports of LPG, a peaceful material, hinge on Naftomar. Best known as a barbecue fuel in many places, these small canisters play a vital role in countries with limited infrastructure for piping gas.
“While it is very difficult (and outside our scope) to make political judgments, we understand that the LPG that is imported into Syria is used for domestic uses such as heating and cooking,” Heard said in Naftomar’s statement. A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the bloc did not impose sanctions on refined oil products “because of potential effects on the Syrian population”. A source in one EU member state involved in drafting the sanctions on Syria said that was unlikely to change in the near future.