LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - European Union governments agreed on Monday to ease sanctions on Syria to allow for purchases of crude from the opposition, in hopes of throwing a financial lifeline to rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad.
The decision, taken at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, will allow European importers to buy oil from Syria, if authorized by an opposition umbrella grouping.
The sanctions were first imposed in 2011 in response to Assad's brutal crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Two years later, the conflict is largely a stalemate, and an estimated 70,000 people have died.
"Anything that can help more resources to be available to people affected by the crisis of course is welcome," EU commissioner for humanitarian aid, Kristalina Georgieva, told Reuters on the sidelines of the meeting.
Buying Syrian crude will be complicated, because of security concerns and battered infrastructure, but officials said more financial help would be offered.
"It is important for us to send a signal that we are open to helping in other ways, in all the ways possible, including ways adding to the finances (of the opposition)," British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters as he arrived for Monday's meeting.
(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak and Adrian Croft; Editing by Adrian Croft)