The United States has imposed financial sanctions on three top Syrian officials, including two relatives of President Bashar al-Assad, over their roles in the continuing brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters.
REUTERS - The United States slapped sanctions on Syria’s intelligence agency and two relatives of President Bashar al-Assad on Friday in Washington’s first concrete steps in response to a bloody crackdown on protests.
Assad, Syria’s long-serving ruler, was not among those targeted under an order signed by President Barack Obama but could be named soon if violence by government forces against democracy protesters continued, a senior U.S. official said.
Sanctions for alleged human rights abuses were imposed against Maher al-Assad, Bashar’s brother, and Atif Najib, one of his cousins, together with Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate and its chief. Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard was also targeted, accused of helping Syria’s crackdown.
The action, details of which were first reported by Reuters, marks a more assertive approach by Washington, which has been criticized by human rights groups for not doing more to curb Assad’s efforts to crush an uprising against his autocratic 11-year rule.
But another U.S. official said the White House is « not ready » to call on Assad to step down—as it has done with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi—because Obama and his aides « do not want to get out in front of the Syrian people. »
The sanctions, which include asset freezes and bans on U.S. business dealings for those on the list, build on broader U.S. measures against Syria in place since 2004.
There are questions, however, whether new sanctions against Assad’s inner circle will have any dramatic impact since they are thought to hold few U.S. assets. But U.S. officials said they hoped European and Asian governments would follow suit.
Washington has stepped up pressure but has still moved cautiously after working for the past two years to try to woo Damascus away from its alliance with U.S. foe Iran.
The Obama administration is also worried about stoking instability on U.S. ally Israel’s borders and wants to avoid another military entanglement in the Muslim world, where it is involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Human rights abuses
In his executive order, Obama said the Syrian government had committed « human rights abuses, including those related to the repression of the people in Syria, manifested most recently by the use of violence and torture.
A U.S. official said the new sanctions were meant to show that no member of the Syrian leadership was « immune » from being held accountable. « Bashar is very much on our radar and if this continues could be soon to follow, » the official said.
« It puts Syria’s leaders on notice that decisions to kill unarmed civilians have consequences, » said Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry.
A Syrian rights group said at least 500 civilians had been killed since the unrest broke out in Deraa on March 18. Authorities dispute the death toll, saying 78 security forces and 70 civilians died in violence they blame on armed groups.
Despite that, Obama’s response to the Syrian crisis so far has been limited compared to Washington’s role in a NATO-led air campaign against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya and its call for his ouster.
Maher al-Assad is a brigade commander in the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division that has played a key role in Deraa, where protesters have been killed by security forces, the White House said. Najib was described as former head of the Political Security Directorate for Deraa during the deadly crackdown.
The new sanctions also target the General Intelligence Directorate and its director, Ali Mamluk. The spy agency is accused by U.S. officials of repressing dissent and of involvement in the killing of protesters in Deraa.
The fifth target is Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps - Quds Force, which is already under U.S. sanctions for supporting militant groups around the world.
The Quds Force, a branch of the Iranian government’s principal security agency which operates outside Iran, is accused of being the « conduit » for material support Tehran has provided to Syrian authorities to suppress protests.
In addition, the U.S. Commerce Department revoked licenses for the export to Syria of parts for aircraft it said were used by senior members of the Syrian government. One of the licenses would have allowed the Syrians to obtain a luxury aircraft for Assad’s use, U.S. officials said.
Date created : 2011-04-29