European Union member states have reached a preliminary agreement to ease an embargo on Syrian oil exports in what would be the first easing of sanctions since the beginning of President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on popular dissent two years ago.

The International Herald Tribune says diplomatic sources devised the agreement to give opposition-held areas greater autonomy and flexibility to build an economic base through petroleum resources.

Pending a review of senior Union officials, European foreign ministers will consider endorsing the draft agreement on Monday. Further legislative steps could be required for the embargo to be eased.

Syrian opposition representatives, meanwhile, have stepped up calls for the Union to end a weapons embargo slated to expire at the end of May, reports the Irish Times.

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Easing the embargo is “the only way” to stop the bloodshed, argued Walid Saffour, UK ambassador of the Syrian National Coalition of Revolutionary and Opposition Forces, during a visit to Dublin on Wednesday.

Britain and France are in favour of giving military assistance to the opposition, but other member states are against contributing to the further militarisation of the conflict.

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