The Trump administration issued new sanctions against employees of a government agency in Syria as part of its campaign against Assad regime in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed dozens in Idlib province earlier in April.
More than 87 civilians were killed in Syria in a new chemical attack carried out by Assad regime’s air force on the rebel-held Idlib province on April 4.
Medical sources said that more than 300 other civilians were injured in this attack, and many of them were transferred to hospitals near the Turkish borders or inside Turkey, where poison tests were made.
In a sharp escalation of the U.S. military role in Syria, two U.S. warships fired dozens of cruise missiles from the eastern Mediterranean Sea at the airbase controlled by Assad regime forces from which the attack as carried out.
Trump ordered the strikes just a day after he pointed the finger at Assad for this week’s chemical attack.
“Tonight I ordered a targeted military strike on the airfield in Syria from where the chemical attack was launched.”
“Years of previous attempts at changing Assad’s behavior have all failed and failed very dramatically,” Trump said on Thursday.
New sanctions on Assad regime
The U.S. Treasury Department sanctioned 271 employees of Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), an agency that Washington says develops chemical weapons for the government of Bashar al-Assad, the Treasury said in a statement.
Some of the people blacklisted had worked on Syria’s chemical weapons program for more than five years, the Treasury Department said. The sanction orders U.S. banks to freeze the assets of any employees named, and bans American companies from conducting business with them.
Those designated were “highly educated” individuals likely to be able to travel outside of Syria and use the international financial system even if they may not have assets abroad, administration officials said during a conference call with reporters.
“These sweeping sanctions target the scientific support center for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children,” U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
U.S. authorities, he said, would “relentlessly pursue and shut down the financial networks of all individuals involved with the production of chemical weapons used to commit these atrocities.”
Three U.S. officials said that the sanctions are part of a broader effort to cut off funding and other support to Syria’s Bashar Assad and his government.
The sanctions listings are the latest action taken by the Trump Administration in response to the April 4 chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib.
The U.S. has gradually been expanding its sanctions program against Syria since 2004, when it issued sanctions targeting Syria for a range of offenses, including its support of terrorism, as well as its occupation of Lebanon, efforts to undermine stability in Iraq and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.
President George W. Bush first placed sanctions against the SSRC in 2005, accusing it of producing weapons of mass destruction.
Although the Assad regime promotes the SSRC as a civilian research center, “its activities focus substantively on the development of biological and chemical weapons,” U.S. officials said.
During the Obama administration, the United States in July 2016 sanctioned people and companies for supporting the SSRC, and on Jan. 12, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned six SSRC officials it said were linked to SSRC branches affiliated with chemical weapons logistics or research.
More recently, sanctions were expanded in connection with its civil war, now in its sixth year, to target offenses linked to the ongoing violence and human rights abuses.
Current Syria sanctions seek to block the property and interests in property of the Syrian government from receiving funding and support.
The U.S. has also issued sanctions for foreign individuals or companies that support Assad’s government. A number of Iranian entities have been penalized for supporting the Syrian government or fighters working to undermine peace in Syria.