US hits Syria's elite with new economic and travel sanctions

WASHINGTON (AP) - The Trump administration increased pressure on Syrian President Bashar Assad and his inner circle on Wednesday with a series of new economic and travel sanctions for human rights violations and blocked a settlement to the country's bloody nine-year conflict.
The State Department said 39 Syrian people, including Assad and his wife, had been targeted for the new sanctions. Others are members of the expanded Assad family, senior military leaders, and business people. Many of those on the list have already been subject to U.S. sanctions, but the penalties also target non-Syrians who do business with them.
Regardless, the Treasury announced that it has sanctioned 24 individuals, companies, and government agencies who "actively support Assad's corrupt reconstruction efforts."
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A recent addition to the US blacklist is Assad's wife Asma, who had not previously been targeted, but was classified as "one of Syria's most notorious war profiteers."
The sanctions are the result of legislation known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named after the pseudonym of a Syrian police officer who handed over photos of thousands of victims of torture by the Assad government.
"Today's terms send a clear message that no person or company should do business or otherwise enrich with such a heinous regime," said White House spokesman Kayleigh McEnany in a statement.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the terms were "the beginning of an ongoing campaign of economic and political pressure to refuse Assad's revenue and support to wage war and commit mass atrocities against the Syrian people."
"Anyone doing business with the Assad regime, anywhere in the world, may face travel restrictions and financial sanctions," Pompeo said in a statement.
In addition to violations of the law, the victims were also hit because they hindered a peaceful political solution to the longstanding conflict.
In addition to Bashar and Asma Assad, Assad's sister Bushra was appointed on Wednesday; his brother Maher and his wife Manal; Mohamed Hamsho, head of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce; his wife Rania al-Dabbas; his son Ahmed, a show jumper in the Syrian equestrian team at the 2012 Olympics; and Ghassan Ali, a right-wing man from Maher Assad, and Samer al-Dana, who are leaders of the fourth division of the Syrian military.
Wednesday's announcement was generally expected, and before that Syria devalued its currency by 44%. Syria announced a new official exchange rate for the pound of chaos in the market a few hours before the sanctions took effect.
Syria's already troubled economy has deteriorated sharply, prices have risen and the pound has collapsed in recent weeks, partly due to fears that sanctions would further isolate the war-torn country.
Experts say the new sanctions will be a major blow to a nation where, according to the United Nations, more than 80% of people are already living in poverty. Syrian government officials have called it "economic terrorism".
Syria is already facing sanctions, some pre-war, imposed by the United States and European countries on officials or individuals related to the Assad government. The new sanctions are likely to significantly affect the inflow of foreign capital, particularly for post-war reconstruction, particularly from Russia and Iran, Assad's main allies, and from China and neighboring countries.
The Washington-based Syria Center for Justice and Accountability said the Caesar sanctions were designed to "deter foreign financial commitments and commercial reconstruction agreements with the Assad government."
However, the group said that the sanctions also include provisions that exclude humanitarian goods and services, similar to other sanctions, and should ensure the flow of aid and mitigate the economic impact of the sanctions on the Syrian people.
However, the currency collapse is apparently partly exacerbated by panic over the impact of the sanctions.
People are hoarding dollars and many commercial transactions have stopped. To control currency flow and exchange rate, the government has acted against hawalas or exchange offices that are used by the majority of Syrians, which has also affected the currency flow in the country.
A financial crisis in neighboring Lebanon, which controls withdrawals and a lack of foreign currencies, has also affected the Syrian banking sector and the Syrians who saved or did business through Lebanon. Iran's own economic problems and the economic effects of corona virus restrictions in the region have exacerbated the crisis in Syria.
"Ultimately, the Syrian government is the primary cause of the economic crisis - its irresponsible fiscal policies, persistent corruption, a refusal to respect international laws and norms, or to conduct political and diplomatic negotiations in good faith," SCJA said in a report released Tuesday The sanctions offer the Syrian government a clear path out of the sanctions.
"Both the US and EU sanctions regimes make it clear that the sanctions will be lifted if President Assad agrees to a change of political power," it said. "If the Syrian government is really concerned about the impact of economic sanctions on its ability to protect." There is a clear option for the Syrian public of COVID-19. "
___ Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria and Sarah el-Deeb in Beirut, Lebanon, contributed to this.

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