US sanctions Syrian regime, militia figures in first for Biden administration

US sanctions Syrian regime, militia figures in first for Biden administration
Most of the individuals and entities sanctioned are linked to Syrian regime intelligence services.
2 min read
28 July, 2021
Eight Syria-linked individuals were sanctioned by the US Treasury on Wednesday [Getty}

The US Department of the Treasury on Wednesday slapped sanctions on Syrian regime and militia figures in a first for the administration of President Joe Biden.

Five of the eight individuals added to the sanctions list were Syrian intelligence officials accused by the US Treasury of running prisons where human rights abuses take place.

One of those sanctioned was a fundraiser and recruiter for Hayat Tahrir Al Sham (HTS), a hardline rebel group in control of swathes of northwestern Syria.

Two leaders of Ahrar Al-Sharqiya, a Turkish-backed militia accused of human rights abuses in northern Syria, were added to the sanctions list, as was the militia itself.

"Ahrar Al-Sharqiya has committed numerous crimes against civilians, particularly Syrian Kurds, including unlawful killings, abductions, torture, and seizures of private property," the US Treasury said in a Wednesday press release.

"The group has also incorporated former Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) members into its ranks. These horrific acts compound the suffering of a population that has repeatedly endured mass displacement."

Ahrar Al-Sharqiya militants executed Kurdish feminist politician Hevrin Khalaf in October 2019, during Turkey's offensive in northern Syria.

Saraya Al-Areen, a militia affiliated with the Syrian Arab Army, was sanctioned "for being responsible for or complicit in, or having directly or indirectly engaged in, or attempted to engage in, the obstruction, disruption, or prevention of a ceasefire in northern Syria".

Eight prisons run by the Assad regime's intelligence apparatus "which have been sites of human rights abuses against political prisoners and other detainees" were also added to the sanctions list.

The sanctions update "demonstrates the United States’ strong commitment to targeting human rights abuses in Syria, regardless of the perpetrator,” Treasury department official Andrea M. Gacki said.

These are the first such sanctions on Syria from the Biden administration, who took office in January this year.

The Biden administration had even dropped sanctions on Assad-linked companies just last month, to the dismay of some Congresspeople.

However, the US did extend unilateral sanctions first imposed on Syria between 2004 and 2012 by another year in May. 

Washington placed heavy sanctions on Syria using the Caesar Act in 2020, when Donald Trump was US president.

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been detained by the Assad regime, and thousands have been tortured in prisons.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied that his forces have tortured prisoners.