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US sanctions Syria’s central bank chief, intel head

The Trump administration sanctioned more than a dozen Syrian officials and entities in its latest push to choke off the regime's financial network.

The United States today imposed a new round of sanctions on Syrian officials, including the governor of the Central Bank of Syria, in the Trump administration's latest push to squeeze President Bashar al-Assad of his financial backers. 

“The United States will continue to employ all of its tools and authorities to target the finances of anyone who profits from or facilitates the Assad regime’s abuse of the Syrian people,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement today

Prominent Syrian businessman Khodr Taher bin Ali was among the “key enablers” named in the latest round of sanctions. The Treasury Department said bin Ali acts as an intermediary and contractor for the 4th Division, an elite military unit in the Syrian Arab Army, and has run a number of companies used to launder money on behalf of the regime. 

The Treasury imposed sanctions on Husam Muhammad Louka, the head of the Syrian General Intelligence Directorate, accusing him of torturing of detainees in the Syrian city of Homs and involvement in a massacre that killed 19 people at a children’s playground in 2015.  

Central Bank governor Hazem Younes Karfoul was also designated, along with Nasreen Ibrahim and Rana Ibrahim. According to US officials, the Ibrahim family acts as a front for Assad and his wife, Asma. 

The Trump administration embarked on a sweeping sanctions campaign this summer, largely aimed at preventing reconstruction in government-held parts of Syria. In June, the Caesar Act took effect, which gives the administration the authority to impose sanctions on anyone — Syrian or foreign — who provides assistance to the regime’s military operations or the country’s construction, engineering, energy or aviation sectors.

Damascus blames Western sanctions for its economic devastation, with the Syrian foreign minister telling the United Nations on Saturday that the Caesar measures were “an inhumane attempt to suffocate Syrians.”  

US officials have stressed that the sanctions do not target humanitarian assistance and that exemptions are built into the Caesar law so that much-needed supplies, including food and medicine, can reach the population.

In a statement today, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions announced today came on the third anniversary of an attack on Armanaz in Idlib province. Backed by Russia, the regime launched overnight airstrikes on the rebel-held town, killing more than two dozen people, according to war monitors.

“The administration’s designations of senior government of Syria officials, military commanders, and corrupt business leaders will not cease until the Assad regime and its enablers take irreversible steps to end their campaign of violence against the Syrian people,” Pompeo said.

Last week, the United States announced $720 million in additional assistance for Syrians inside the country and refugees in the region, bringing the total US contribution since the start of the Syrian crisis to more than $12 billion.