The raft of new travel and economic sanctions target 39 Syrian individuals, including Assad and his wife. Others include members of the extended Assad family, senior military leaders and business executives. Many of those on the list were already subject to U.S. sanctions, but the penalties also target non-Syrians who do business with them.
“Today’s designations send a clear message that no individual or business should enter into business with or otherwise enrich such a vile regime,” White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said in a statement.
The sanctions are part of the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, named after the pseudonym of a Syrian policeman who turned over photographs of thousands of victims of torture by the Assad government. Trump signed the act late last December. Besides rights abuses, those targeted also were hit for obstructing a peaceful political resolution to the long-running conflict.
“Today we begin a sustained campaign of sanctions against the Assad regime under the Caesar Act, which authorizes severe economic sanctions to hold the Assad regime and its foreign enablers accountable for their brutal acts against the Syrian people,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a tweet.
Along with the Assad family, the Treasury Department announced it has imposed sanctions on 24 individuals, companies and government agencies that “are actively supporting the corrupt reconstruction efforts” of Assad.
One newcomer to the U.S. blacklists is Assad’s wife, Asma, who had not been previously targeted but was hit for becoming what the State Department said is “one of Syria’s most notorious war profiteers.”
In addition to Bashar and Asma Assad, those designated on Wednesday include Assad’s sister Bushra; his brother, Maher, and his wife, Manal; Mohamed Hamsho, the head of the Damascus Chamber of Commerce; his wife, Rania al-Dabbas; his son, Ahmed, a show jumper in Syria’s equestrian team in the 2012 Olympics; and Ghassan Ali, a right-hand man of Maher Assad, and Samer al-Dana, who are leaders of the Syrian military’s Fourth Division.
Wednesday’s announcement was widely expected, and ahead of it, Syria devalued its currency by 44 percent. Syria announced a new official exchange rate for the pound amid chaos in the market just hours before the sanctions took effect.
Syria’s already troubled economy has sharply deteriorated, prices have soared and the pound had collapsed in recent weeks, partly because of fears that the sanctions would further isolate the war-ravaged country.
Experts say the new sanctions will be a heavy blow to a nation where more than 80 percent of the people already live in poverty, according to the United Nations. Syrian government officials have called it “economic terrorism.”
Syria is already facing sanctions — some in place even before the war — imposed by the United States and European countries against officials or individuals linked to Assad’s government. The new sanctions will likely severely impact the inflow of foreign capital particularly for post-war reconstruction, especially from Russia and Iran, Assad’s main allies, as well as China and neighboring countries.
The Washington-based Syria Center for Justice and Accountability said the Caesar sanctions are designed for this purpose, “aiming to deter foreign financial engagement and commercial reconstruction agreements with the Assad government.”
But the group said the sanctions also contain provisions exempting humanitarian goods and services, similar to other sanctions, and intended to ensure the flow of aid and mitigate the economic consequences of the sanctions on the Syrian people.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.