Syrian first lady Asma al-Assad poses for a picture that appeared in 2019 on the Syrian presidency's Facebook page. — AFP/VNA Photo
WASHINGTON — The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's wife and dozens of others as it vowed a vast pressure campaign under a new law that has already rattled the war-torn nation's economy.
The Caesar Act, which took effect on Wednesday, punishes under US law any company that works with Assad, casting a cloud over efforts to rebuild Syria.
"We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement, vowing a "sustained campaign of economic and political pressure."
The first batch of designations target 39 people or entities, including Assad personally as well as his wife Asma – the first time she has been hit by US sanctions.
Under the law, any assets in the US will be frozen. Assad has been under US sanctions since he began to crush an uprising in 2011.
Born in Britain to a cardiologist father and diplomat mother, Asma al-Assad is a former investment banker who had styled herself as a progressive reformer and modern face of the Assads. She announced in August that she had recovered from breast cancer.
Pompeo in his statement charged that Asma al-Assad, with the support of her husband and her own Akhras family, "has become one of Syria's most notorious war profiteers."
Seeking political solution
The Caesar Act, passed by the US Congress last year with bipartisan support, aims to prevent Assad's normalisation without accountability for human rights abuses.
The Act is named after a Syrian former military photographer who fled in 2014 at great personal risk with 55,000 images of brutality in Assad's jails.
The measure also blocks US reconstruction assistance. Humanitarian groups are exempt from the sanctions on working in Syria.
Pompeo said the goal was to force Assad into accepting Security Council Resolution 2254 of 2015, which called for a ceasefire, elections and a political transition.
A UN-driven process has made no headway, with Assad last year launching a major offensive to retake Idlib, the last major rebel holdout.
The European Union has imposed its own sanctions over Syria, and a French court separately on Wednesday convicted an uncle of Bashar al-Assad over money-laundering and misappropriation of government funds.
At the United Nations, Germany and Belgium on Wednesday sent a draft resolution to the Security Council extending the authorisation to cross the Syrian border by one year in order to deliver humanitarian aid.
The measure, seen by AFP, states that more than 11 million people in Syria "require humanitarian assistance," and that authorising border crossings "remains an urgent and temporary solution to address the humanitarian needs of the population."
In January, authorised border crossings into Syria were cut from four to two, both on the border with Turkey.
The draft resolution also calls for "an exception" to allow the use of a border crossing on Syria's border with Iraq for six months to send aid benefitting some 1.3 million people in the region. — AFP