The US has imposed sanctions on the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s wife and dozens of other individuals and groups, as it vowed to mount a vast pressure campaign under a new law that has already rattled the Syrian economy, the Guardian reported.
“We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people,” the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, said in a statement.
He called the sanctions “the beginning of what will be a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime revenue and support it uses to wage war and commit mass atrocities against the Syrian people.”
The Caesar Act, which came into force on Wednesday, punishes any companies that work with Assad, and has already led to a fall in the value of Syria’s currency.
The first batch of designations target 39 people or entities, including Assad personally as well as his wife, Asma – the first time she has been targeted by US sanctions.
Under the law, any assets in the US will be frozen. Assad has been under US sanctions since he began to crush an uprising in 2011.
Asma al-Assad, who was born in Britain to a cardiologist father and diplomat mother, is a former investment banker who has styled herself as a progressive reformer and modern face of the Assads.
But Pompeo in his statement charged that she, with the support of her husband and her own family, “has become one of Syria’s most notorious war profiteers”.
Others designated under the Caesar Act include Mohammed Hamsho, one of Syria’s most prominent businesspeople, and the Fatemiyoun, an Iranian-led division of Afghan Shia Muslims that has been deployed to prop up Assad.
Assad, backed by Russia and Iran, has won back almost all of Syria except the Idlib area after a war that has killed more than 380,000 people.
The Caesar Act, passed by the US Congress last year with bipartisan support, seeks to prevent Assad’s normalisation without accountability for human rights abuses. It penalises in the US any company that deals with Assad and blocks reconstruction assistance from Washington.
Syria’s central bank devalued the pound on Wednesday after the currency depreciated for weeks on the black market in anticipation of the law.
Pompeo said the goal was to force Assad into accepting a UN security council resolution from 2015 that called for a ceasefire, elections and political transition in Syria.
A UN-driven process has made no headway, and last year Assad launched an offensive backed by Russian airpower to retake Idlib.
Pompeo said the US was undertaking the pressure campaign “in full cooperation with other like-minded countries”.
The EU has imposed its own sanctions over Syria, and a French court separately on Wednesday convicted an uncle of Bashar al-Assad over money-laundering and misappropriation of government funds.
The Caesar Act is named after a former Syrian military photographer who fled at great personal risk in 2014 with 55,000 images of brutality in Assad’s jails.
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