By Jessica Donati
LONDON (Reuters) - Syria's sole supplier of heating fuel has halted deliveries due to European Union sanctions, making it difficult for Syrians to cook and hear their homes and potentially widening opposition to the government of President6 Bashar al-Assad.
Most major oil firms had already severed ties with Syria for fear of breaking the law or being linked to a bloody crackdown in which thousands have died.
But a loophole allowed Naftomar, a little-known firm in Greece, to continue supplying Syria with liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), used widely for heating and cooking.
The EU allowed shipments to continue during the winter for humanitarian reasons, but it has now blacklisted the Syrian company that handled LPG imports.
"LPG deliveries to Syria have stopped because of sanctions," said a director at Naftomar.
Critics charged that by delivering the fuel, worth at least $55 million each month during the winter, Naftomar might have been helping to extend Assad's rule.
Naftomar had defended its position on the grounds its fuel may be preventing an even worse humanitarian crisis in Syria.
Political allies Russia and Venezuela have continued to provide Syria with shipments of refined products such as gasoil, which can be used to fuel army tanks.
But imports of LPG, which hinged on Naftomar, are seen as peaceful because they play a vital role in regions with limited infrastructure for piping gas.
"We understand the lack of LPG makes it difficult for the populace, including the part that is involved in protests against the government, to continue to cook and heat themselves," Naftomar's director continued.
(Reporting by Jessica Donati; additional reporting by Sebastian Moffett; Editing by Jane Baird)