US imposes sanctions on son of Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad
Sanctions designed to discourage anyone from funding Syrian regime
Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. Photograph: Louai Beshara/AFP/Getty Images
Hafez Bashar al-Assad, the eldest son of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad , is named in the latest list of 14 senior Syrian regime officials and entities sanctioned by the US State Department under the so-called Caesar Act.
The designations, focusing on the “barbarous First Division of the Syrian Army”, are the second wave of sanctions to be applied under the act following the first move by the US State Department on 17 June.
The first wave attacked the businessmen that have bankrolled Assad, with secondary sanctions designed to discourage any other external actor having any dealings with the Assad business circle.
No sanctions were imposed on Russia or Assad supporters in the Middle East outside Syria, but the US urged everyone to wind down all connections with the Syrian regime.
The sanctions come as Syria struggles to avoid an economic collapse caused by the nine-year civil war, hyperinflation, food shortages and the spread of coronavirus through the Middle East.
The US deputy assistant secretary of state, Joel Rayburn, said the sanctions were timed to be introduced in the week of some of the worst atrocities committed by the Assad regime in 2011 and 2019.
Asked why Assad’s teenage son had been added to the list – he was born in 2001 – Rayburn said: “There has been a trend of senior Syrian regime actors and business people who have been active in the regime to do business through their adult family members to evade sanctions.
“It seems very clear that the immediate family of Bashar al-Assad and their in-laws are attempting to consolidate economic power inside Syria so that they could use this to further consolidate political power.”
He said: “Assad would only use such power to strengthen the killing machine against the Syrian people”. He denied that the sanctions would have any impact on humanitarian trade or on the economy of Lebanon.
The steady drumbeat of sanctions, mimicking a US policy long adopted elsewhere in the Middle East notably Iran, reveals a determination in Washington to use non-military leverage to force the Assad regime to negotiate the terms of a political settlement with the largely routed opposition.
Syria is stuck in a stalemate with Assad’s Iranian and Russian backers unable to destroy the last opposition stronghold in Idlib, but Assad himself is adamant that he will not cooperate with the UN-led peace process, including on a new constitution for the country.
The UN security council has most recently deadlocked about the number of humanitarian cross border crossings into Syria with Russia and China insisting that only one could be allowed. The deadlock came as coronavirus started to creep into refugee camps in and around Syria.
The Caesar sanctions, passed into law in December 2019, are named in memory of the Syrian code named Caesar that smuggled photos out of Syria showing the scale of atrocities in Assad’s prisons.
Rayburn vowed “this is a campaign that will continue. This is going to be the summer of Caesar.”.
He insisted the sanctions were having a chilling effect on expected external investment into Syria.