US sanctions Syrian MP with ties to Assad

At least 45 killed, 1,500 flee Hama in 48 hours; new sanctions are aimed at MP Muhammad Hamsho.

August 5, 2011 01:29
2 minute read.
Amatuer video of a tank in Hama

Amatuer video of a tank in Hama 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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WASHINGTON – The Obama administration slapped fresh sanctions on Syria late Wednesday, targeting a parliamentarian and prominent businessman accused of supporting the Assad regime, as it extended a bloody crackdown on protesters.

The new sanctions are aimed at MP Muhammad Hamsho, whom the US Treasury said was acting as an agent for Syrian President Bashar Assad, 45, and his brother, Republican Guard commander Mahir Assad, 43 – both of whom have already been placed on the blacklist of those sanctioned for human rights abuses. Hamsho’s business empire includes some 20 subsidiaries.

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“Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with Bashar Assad, Mahir Assad and others responsible for the Syrian government’s violence and intimidation against the Syrian people,” US Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in announcing the measure.

“The sanctions we are applying today to Hamsho and his company are the direct consequence of his actions.”

The designation was announced as the administration indicated it would be taking a stronger stance in backing the opposition groups, who have been marching against Assad for months, despite almost 2,000 protesters having been killed by the regime.

On Wednesday and early Thursday, renewed confrontation left an estimated 45 dead as tanks entered Hama to try occupy the biggest flashpoint in the uprising against the regime.

Rami Abdel Rahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 1,500 families managed to flee Hama in the last 48 hours, heading mainly to the east or the west of the besieged city. Other activists said authorities had blocked the road north toward Aleppo and Turkey.

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In the face of such bloodshed, many members of Congress, policy hands and activists have called on the administration to take swifter and harsher action that goes beyond individual designations.

A bipartisan trio of senators – Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), Joseph Lieberman (I-Connecticut) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) – is introducing legislation for further sanctions that would be much broader than the Treasury efforts, which have mostly consisted of blacklisting people on the grounds of involvement in human rights abuses.

Under the legislation, companies that do business in Syria’s energy sector writ large would be affected, as investors; as well as those who buy Syrian oil and sell gasoline to Syria would be barred from American markets.

However, the Senate has already adjourned for its summer recess, so the measure isn’t set to be considered until September at the earliest.

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