- Associated Press - Thursday, September 20, 2012

SCHEVENINGEN, Netherlands — A coalition including the United States, the European Union and the Arab League met Thursday to plot new ways of isolating the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, as a Syrian opposition leader warned sanctions alone will not bring down the regime.

The group Friends of the Syrian People was set up in February after the U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a resolution condemning Syria’s government because of opposition from Russia and China.

On Thursday, financial experts joined representatives of the group at their meeting in a coastal suburb of The Hague, Netherlands, to help member countries understand how Syria may be relying on dual-use technologies and front companies to get around the existing sanctions, which include an embargo on oil and arms.

Twelve more countries have joined the 60-member coalition, committing also to block Syrian financial transactions and enforce a travel ban on the country’s top leaders.

The uprising against the Syrian government began in March 2011 as part of Arab Spring protests and intensified after Mr. Assad’s government used the country’s military in an attempt to end the unrest.

The United Nations estimates that at least 18,000 people have been killed as a result of the fighting, most of them civilians. More than 1.5 million people have been displaced, many fleeing as refugees to neighboring countries such as Turkey and Jordan.

Dutch Foreign Minister Uri Rosenthal said the sanctions are having an effect, citing a sharp fall in Syria’s oil exports. Russia, China and Iran have refused to impose the sanctions.

Abrahim Miro, a member of the Syrian Governing Council of opposition groups, said the sanctions alone will not bring down Mr. Assad’s regime. He said he hopes increased sanctions and the armed resistance by the Syrian Free Army “will actually cause the economic heart attack and also the military heart attack of the regime.”

Abdo Hussameldin — a former official in Syria’s oil ministry, who in March became the highest-ranking member of the government to defect — said the economic sanctions are demoralizing and delegitimizing the regime in the eyes of the country’s people. But he agreed with Mr. Miro that the sanctions alone won’t force Mr. Assad from office as long as his regime continues to get financial support from countries such as Lebanon Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Russia and Venezuela.

In Syria, government airstrikes hit a gas station in northern Syria Thursday, setting off a fiery explosion that killed at least 30 people and wounded dozens, opposition activists said.

Earlier Thursday, a Syrian military helicopter crashed near the capital of Damascus, and Syria’s Information Ministry said the helicopter went down after its rotor clipped the tail of a Syrian passenger plane with 200 people on board. The larger aircraft landed safely.