US sanctions Syrian banks and largest cell phone company

By Eliza

Aug 10, 2011 12:11pm

ABC News' Kirit Radia (@KiritRadia_ABC) reports:

The Treasury Department today announced new sanctions on Syria, the second round in as many weeks, as the regime of President Bashar Assad continues its brutal crackdown on protesters throughout the country.

Added to the sanctions list today were the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, the largest commercial bank in the country, and its Lebanese-based subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank. The banks are accused of aiding Syria’s illicit proliferation activities with North Korea. Syria’s largest cell phone provider, Syriatel, was also slapped with sanctions because of its owner’s role in supporting human rights abuses in the country.

“By exposing Syria’s largest commercial bank as an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators, and by targeting Syria’s largest mobile phone operator for being controlled by one of the regime’s most corrupt insiders, we are taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to Assad and his regime’s illicit activities,” David Cohen, the Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in a statement.

According to the Treasury Department, the two banks provided financial services to Syrian and North Korean research facilities that supported the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, including missile systems. Syriatel was sanctioned because it is owned by Rami Makhluf, a prominent Syrian businessman with close ties to the regime who was already placed under U.S. sanctions in 2008.

Last week the Treasury Department added a prominent businessman and member of parliament to its list of over two dozen individuals sanctioned since the uprising began earlier this year for their role in supporting or financing the regime.

According to U.S. officials the United States is also developing tough sanctions on Syria’s oil and gas sector, a lucrative source of funding for the regime. A senior American diplomat, Fred Hof, is visiting European capitals this week to rally support for similar action there. U.S. officials want European countries to take coordinated action on energy sanctions in order for them to be more effective, since their companies have more ties with Syria.

The Obama administration is also weighing whether to call on President Assad to step down. Last week the White House was prepared to make such a declaration, but held back over concerns raised by the State Department. So far President Obama has only said that Assad has “lost legitimacy” but has refrained from calling for his ouster.

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