Lebanon denies endorsing US Caesar sanctions bill against Syrian regime
"Some media outlets have published a report claiming that the Caesar Act for US sanctions was distributed during the Cabinet session and that the government has endorsed this law," the prime minister's office said in a statement.
"The truth is that the government intends to study the impact of this Act on Lebanon and the margins that the government could work within while avoiding negative repercussions against the country," the statement said.
"No commitment, discussion or endorsement of this Act took place during the Cabinet session," it added.
The Caesar Act is a US legislation that sanctions the Syrian regime, including its head Bashar al-Assad, for war crimes against the Syrian people.
The bill also targets individuals and businesses with links to the Syrian regime, including firms working in the energy, aviation, construction and engineering sectors in Syria.
It is expected to hit Lebanese and Lebanon-based individuals and businesses, according to local media.
"The law aims to prevent any normalization by countries like Lebanon, China or the United Arab Emirates with the Syrian regime and to hinder reconstruction efforts with a regime that has turned 14 million of its citizens into refugees or dis-placed people," Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group of Syrian advocates in the United States that helped draft the bill, told Lebanon’s L'Orient-Le Jour newspaper.
"It will be a clear warning to any personality or entity in Lebanon cooperating with the Syrian regime," he added, referring to "prominent figures in Lebanon support the Syrian regime".
Lebanon's Hezbollah has been a backer of Assad in the Syria war, sending fighters to Syria, as well as maintaining military bases and training centres there.
The US bill was named after a former Syrian military defector, who goes by the pseudonym Caesar. He fled Syria in 2014 with 55,000 images of brutality in Assad's jails as the regime crushed an uprising.
A 2014 appearance before the US Congress by Caesar led lawmakers to draft a law that would impose financial restrictions on Syria, including blocking reconstruction aid, until perpetrators of atrocities are brought to justice.
The act, which also penalises Russian and other companies that work with Assad, was finally signed into law in December by Donald Trump after years of fighting inside Congress.
Caesar hailed the act but called for lawmakers to ensure it was enforced.
"The Caesar Law has become the only ray of hope for the Syrian people in the absence of any military or political solution," he said.
"This law is a powerful message to all who support the Assad regime that the time for accountability and justice is coming and that no matter how long oppression lasts."
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