Syria Sanctions: U.S. Targets Hezbollah, Syrian Firm For Supporting Assad Regime

08/10/2012 02:48 pm ET | Updated Oct 10, 2012

WASHINGTON, Aug 10 (Reuters) - The United States imposed a new round of penalties against Syria on Friday that targeted state-run oil company Sytrol and said it was exposing Hezbollah for providing support to Bashar al-Assad's government.

The Lebanese Shi'ite group, which was designated by the United States as a foreign terrorist organization in 1995, has been providing training and extensive logistical support to Syria's government, the U.S. Treasury said.

U.S. officials said they did not know if the sanctions would have any financial effect on Hezbollah or whether other nations would impose economic penalties against the group, suggesting that they were largely symbolic.

"We believe that if they are presented with this information ... that they may want to take additional measures and over the long term that will limit the amount of space that Hezbollah has to operate," said Daniel Benjamin, the Obama administration's coordinator for counterterrorism.

"We do see very concrete benefits coming from this designation, whether they will be in the area of financial sanctions or not remains to be seen. But in terms of casting a bright light on what the group is doing, I think that is vitally important," Benjamin said on call with reporters.

The Obama administration said Hezbollah, an Islamist group backed by both Syria and Iran, has directly trained Syrian government officials within the country and has facilitated the training of Syrian forces by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Americans have been banned from doing business with Hezbollah since the foreign terrorist designation and Syria's central bank and top Syrian government officials are already blocked from U.S. markets.

The announcement came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton travels to Turkey for talks as both countries prepare for the fallout of the 17-month-old uprising in Syria, where Assad is trying to crush a rebellion against his family's 42-year rule.

Washington also imposed sanctions on Syria's state-run oil company, Sytrol, for having provided gasoline to Iran.

The State Department said it had sanctioned Sytrol under the Iran Sanctions Act, which has been strengthened in recent years to make it more difficult for companies to trade with the energy sector in Iran, which the West suspects of seeking nuclear arms.

Iran denies seeking nuclear weapons, saying its program is solely for civilian purposes such as generating electricity.

The State Department said that in April, Syria and Iran engaged in two-way trade in the energy sector in which Syria sent 33,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran. It said the United States put the value of the gasoline delivered by Sytrol to Iran in April at more than $36 million, well above the thresholds for triggering sanctions under the Iran sanctions act.