Crime & Justice

US sanctions affect oil sector, weaken Assad regime

By Waleed Abu al-Khair in Cairo

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Syrian Maj. Gen. Ghassan Jawdat Ismail, shown here in an undated photo, was sanctioned by the US for his involvement in violence against Syrian civilians. [Photo circulated on social media]

Syrian experts speaking with Diyaruna said new sanctions imposed this month on entities and individuals dealing with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad's regime have dealt a painful blow to the regime and its partners.

The sanctions affect the oil sector, lawmakers and intelligence officers and aim to keep up the pressure on al-Assad despite his gains on the ground. Revenue from oil helps keep the Assad regime afloat despite the siege it is under.

The US Department of the Treasury on November 9th imposed a host of new sanctions under the Caesar Syrian Civilian Protection Act, on 11 entities operating between Syria and Lebanon and eight individuals, including two Lebanese nationals.

The targeted individuals include civilians active in the private and oil sectors, as well as military officials previously involved in acts of violence against Syrian civilians.

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The Baniyas refinery is being used by the Syrian regime to store and redistribute petroleum products at a time when oil companies are considered a key source of the regime's survival. [Photo circulated on social media]

The Caesar Act, which took effect in June, restricts any US reconstruction assistance and keeps up pressure on al-Assad, demanding accountability, even though he has won back control of most of Syria during a deadly nine-year war.

Sanctions 'vindication'

Syrian activist Mohammed al-Beik told Diyaruna most Syrians are happy with the sanctions and the people of the Damascus countryside area, especially in Douma, consider them a form of vindication and a recognition of their suffering.

"The inclusion of military officials responsible for human rights violations in Syria on the list of sanctioned individuals is reassuring for most Syrian people," he said.

News of sanctions imposed on businessman Hussam Qaterji, MP for Aleppo, was well received, he said. Qaterji, his family and company have traded oil and wheat with the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) for years.

This is proof that the Assad regime does business with terrorist groups and provides them with steady revenue despite its slogans of fighting terrorism, al-Beik added.

Syrian economist Mahmoud Mustafa said the new sanctions are considered the most effective as they target the oil sector, one of the few remaining sectors whose revenue allows the Syrian regime to continue its war on its people.

The fact that Lebanese nationals are on the list of sanctioned individuals shows the regime's collaboration with Lebanon's Hizbullah to help it circumvent the sanctions, he told Diyaruna.

"The sanctions would prevent the Syrian regime from committing more massacres against civilians and would hold those responsible for such crimes accountable," Mustafa added.

This is especially true since a number of the sanctioned individuals hold military ranks, he said. They include Saqr Rustum, one of the most prominent leaders of the National Defence Forces, "who is responsible for committing the most horrific crimes against Syrian civilians".

Accepting political resolution to war

Al-Sharq Centre for Regional and Strategic Studies researcher Sami Gheit told Diyaruna that sanctions imposed on those dealing with the Syrian regime will have a significant impact on ending its military actions, taken with the support of Russia and Iran.

"More severe sanctions against the regime will ultimately push it to accept a political resolution to the crisis in a way that is in the interest of the Syrian people," he said.

Weakening the oil sector trade through sanctions will lead to weakening the ruling system as a whole. These sanctions will hinder reconstruction projects that the Syrian, Russian and Iranian regimes were eyeing by cutting off funding, he said.

Iran and Russia have been expanding their footprint in Syria in recent years and cashing in on reconstruction activity in strategic areas.

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