US sanctions shut off Iranian oil feeding Assad’s ‘murderous regime’

Iran's support for Bashar Al-Assad has helped his regime gain the upper hand in the eight-year conflict. (AFP/File photo)
Updated 12 June 2019

US sanctions shut off Iranian oil feeding Assad’s ‘murderous regime’

  • Syria envoy James Jeffrey says Iran’s presence in Syria is part of ‘hegemonic quest to dominate the Middle East’
  • Action against Synergy SAL and BS Company hit one of Iran’s remaining outlets for oil exports

LONDON: The US moved to shut off Iranian oil supplies to Syria Tuesday as Washington said Iran’s conduct in the country was part of a “quest to dominate” the Middle East.

New Treasury Department sanctions targeted two Lebanese based firms, which have imported tens of thousands of metric tons of Iranian oil into Syria.

The sanctions focused on Syria’s most prominent tycoon Samer Foz, who has made a fortune luxury developments during the Syrian war.

State Department officials said the action against Synergy SAL and BS Company hit one of Iran’s remaining outlets for oil exports, which have been reduced to a trickle by a crippling US sanctions regime.

“Some of Samer Foz’s activities involved helping the Iranian regime illicitly ship oil to the Assad regime,” special envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn said. “Today’s actions against the Samer Foz network will also put pressure on the Assad regime’s key supporters, such as the Iranian regime and Hezbollah.” 

Iran, along with Russia, has been one of the key backers of Bashar Assad during the eight-year Syrian conflict, which has killed more than 400,000 people. Tehran has supplied military muscle, deploying boots on the ground and arming and financing militias in the country.

Its presence in Syria ensures a territorial link from Tehran to the Mediterranean - something that deeply concerns Arab nations in the region, along with Israel and the US. 

America and its allies in the Middle East are trying to make sure Iran will “pull these forces back” from Syria before a UN political solution can proceed, James Jeffrey, the US Special Representative for Syria Engagement, said.

He said this is being done through pressure on the Assad regime and through “talking with the Russians.”

“The Syrian government invited the Iranians in as their allies in the civil war but in addition the Iranians have introduced as they have done in other places, Yemen, Lebanon, long-range weapon systems essentially as part of their hegemonic quest to dominate the Middle East,” Jeffrey said.

The envoy was speaking in Cairo where, as part of a US delegation, he met with Egyptian and Arab League officials to discuss Syria and how to move toward implementing a UN resolution designed to end the conflict.

Meetings between the US and Russia earlier this year offered some hope of progress, but a flare-up in fighting in Idlib province has infuriated the United States.

Donald Trump last week voiced his anger at the offensive by Syrian and Russian forces that has killed more than 300 civilians and driven nearly 300,000 people from their homes in the last six weeks.

Idlib province is the last significant territory held by rebels and extremist groups fighting against Assad. 

The new US sanctions are probably timed to coincide with the spiralling death toll and humanitarian crisis in Idlib.

The sanctions “target those who are profiting from the misery and murder of the Syrian people,” Rayburn, the Syrian envoy said.

“Any effort at reestablishing or upgrading diplomatic relations or economic cooperation with the Assad regime will only undercut efforts to move toward a permanent, peaceful and political solution to the Syrian conflict.”


Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

Updated 24 min 44 sec ago

Family backs Tlaib’s decision not to visit Israel

  • Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel

RAMALLAH: Relatives of a US congresswoman say they support her decision to decline Israel’s offer allowing her to visit them in the West Bank because the “right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions.”

Rashida Tlaib said she would not see her family, even after Israel lifted a ban on her entry, because the government had imposed restrictions on her trip.

“We totally understand her position and support her in her efforts. The right to travel should be provided to all without any conditions,” her uncle Bassam Tlaib told Arab News.

He was speaking from the family home in Beit Ur Al-Fuka, which is 3 km from the West Bank city of Ramallah, and was flanked by his elderly mother.

He said his niece had visited them many times in the past, but there had never been any conditions attached to her travel.

“She said we will meet when she can come without conditions,” Tlaib said. “One idea has been floated of flying the grandmother to the US or finding a way to have the two meetings in a third country. You know my mother is nearing 90 and it is not easy for her to travel but we are checking out all options.”

Tlaib, a Democrat, has criticized Israel’s policy toward Palestinians and had planned to make an official visit to the country.

Israel said a humanitarian travel request by Tlaib would be considered as long as she promised not to promote a boycott against Israel, local media reported.

But the congresswoman, who is Palestinian-American, lashed out on social media.

“I can’t allow the State of Israel to take away that light by humiliating me & use my love for my sity to bow down to their oppressive & racist policies,” she tweeted, using the word sity to refer to her grandmother. “Silencing me & treating me like a criminal is not what she wants for me. It would kill a piece of me. I have decided that visiting my grandmother under these oppressive conditions stands against everything I believe in — fighting against racism, oppression & injustice.”

The NGO hosting and organizing the trip, Miftah, has been criticized by supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

Hanan Ashrawi, the NGO’s founder, said her staff had organized other congressional trips. “This was the third trip we have organized, and we try to do our work professionally and seriously,” Ashrawi told Arab News. “Our very mission is to promote global dialogue and democracy.”

Ashrawi said the attacks on Miftah were unwarranted.  “Miftah has been targeted with the expressed goal of trying to discredit us even though our record is clear. We believe that they are trying to keep organizing congressional delegations within the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) monopoly, while we are trying to provide visitors with an opportunity to learn about Palestinian life under occupation and to understand the Palestinian narrative by providing opportunities for delegations to see and engage with Palestinians of all walks of life.” 

Ashrawi said Miftah had been “vetted” by the US Congress’ ethics committee. “We might not be able to bring hundreds of congress people like AIPAC, but we can bring a few and have them see, hear and interact with Palestinians.”

US President Donald Trump had called on Israel not to allow Tlaib and fellow congresswoman Ilhan Omar into Israel as admitting the two “would show great weakness.”

He tweeted that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people, and there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace.”