WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama ordered stiffer U.S. sanctions on Friday for top Syrian officials and security forces. The Syrian regime is responsible for a violent crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that has left hundreds dead.
The executive order expands on sanctions first leveled against Syria in 1994.
The Obama administration accuses President Bashar Assad’s government of using “violence and torture against, and arbitrary arrests and detentions of, peaceful protesters by police, security forces, and other entities that have engaged in human rights abuses.”
The sanctions freeze the property and assets in the United States of specific Syrian officials and groups. It also bars American citizens from doing business with them.
The newly sanctioned are:
- Mahir al-Asad - Asad’s brother, a brigade commander in the Syrian Army’s 4th Armored Division, is accused of playing a leading role in the regime’s actions in Dar’a, where at least 42 protesters were killed by security forces Friday in the latest clash of the six-week uprising.
- Atif Najib - Asad’s cousin was the head of the Political Security Directorate for Dar’a Province in March, when security forces killed a group of protesters.
- Ali Mamluk - Mamluk is the director of Syria’s General Intelligence Directorate.
Two government agencies were also slapped with sanctions:
- Syrian General Intelligence Directorate - Described by the White House as Syria’s "overarching civilian intelligence service," the GID is accused of repressing internal dissent and monitoring individual citizens. It has also been linked to the lethal actions in Dar’a.
- Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Qods Force (IRGC-QF) - This force is believed to be what the U.S. refers to as "the conduit” for Iranian material support to Syria’s GID. "Despite the Government of Iran’s public rhetoric claiming revolutionary solidarity with people throughout the region, Iran’s actions in support of the Syrian regime place it in stark opposition to the will of the Syrian people," the White House said.
In 2007, the U.S. Treasury Department designated the IRGC-QF as a supporter of terrorist groups, including the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command.
The new American sanctions come as European nations consider for the first time slapping economic restrictions on Syria.
France, Britain, Germany, Italy and Spain have warned Syrian ambassadors that Assad must end the bloodshed and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Western nations were weighing asset freezes, arms embargo and travel restrictions.
A European diplomat in Washington, who is not authorized to speak publicly, said four years of engagement with Assad has paid few dividends. "We are disappointed," he said. "Bashir promised to be a reformer and, frankly, he hasn't come through."