The US has decided to impose sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Last month, President Barack Obama had imposed sanctions on Assad’s younger brother Maher, his cousin and an intelligence chief, but not on Assad himself. Six other of Assad’s top aides were also targeted in what is, says the New York Times, a “significant slap at Damascus [that] raises questions about whether Washington and the West may ultimately seek Assad’s removal from power.”
On Tuesday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that the US will take “additional steps” against Syria. Says the BBC:
It would be the first time Mr Assad has been targeted personally by the international community for his government’s crackdown on protesters….
Mrs Clinton said the Syrian government had “embraced the worst tactics of their Iranian ally, and they have refused to honour the legitimate aspirations of their own people”.
“President Assad talks about reform, but his heavy-handed, brutal crackdown shows his true intentions,” she added.
Protests in Syria began in the middle of March following the arrest of a group of teenagers who had scrawled anti-government graffiti in the southern city of Dara’a. Since then, protests have occurred throughout many cities in Syria, including the cities of Homs, Hama, Latakia, Aleppo, Banias and elsewhere. Demonstrations have even occurred in the capital of Damascus.
The Syrian government has responded with an increasingly brutal crackdown in which Dara’a, Banias and Homs have been laid siege to by tanks and the military, and many Syrians have been shot and detained. Human rights activists have estimated that at least 800 have been killed and at least 2,843 detained, according to INSAN, a Syrian human rights organization.
Besides Assad, the six senior Syrian officials targeted are: Farouk al-Shara, Vice President Adel Safar, Prime Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar, Interior Minister Ali Habib Mahmoud, Defense Minister Abdul Fatah Qudsiya and Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, head of Syrian military intelligence. Three Syrian agencies have also been targeted: the Syrian Military Intelligence, the Syrian National Security Bureau, which is an element of the ruling Baath party and Syrian Air Force Intelligence. According to a statement from the Treasury Department:
“As a result of this action, any property in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which the individuals listed in the Annex have an interest is blocked, and U.S. persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.”
CNN also reports that two top Iranian officials whose unit has served as a “conduit for Iranian material support” to Syrian intelligence were also targeted by the sanctions.
Tomorrow, President Obama is to give a major speech about the Middle East in which, says the New York Times, he plans to argue that “the political upheaval raises the prospect for progress on all fronts.” Obama will, says White House press secretary, Jay Carney, offer “some specific new ideas about U.S. policy toward the region.” Are the sanctions against Assad a sign of this?
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