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U.S. adds more sanctions on Syria, targeting President Assad’s in-laws

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced more sanctions on Syria, intensifying pressure on President Bashar Assad to end the country’s vicious, nearly decade-long conflict. The new sanctions target Syria’s central bank, Assad’s in-laws, and others.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the United States was intent on “holding accountable the Assad regime for the atrocities it has committed against its own people.”

“The Treasury Department will continue to use all of its tools to expose those who stand with the Assad regime and enable these crimes to continue,” Mnuchin said in a statement.

The State Department and other international governments and independent rights groups say Assad and his regime are responsible in the killings of hundreds of thousands of civilians through aerial bombing, torture, armed attacks, hunger and other targeted campaigns. The violence began when Assad’s fighters brutally quashed civilian protests at the time of the 2011 Arab Spring popular uprisings.

Tuesday’s announcement deepens sanctions on the central bank. Syria’s economy already has seen prices soar and the value of the Syrian currency plunge, hurt by earlier U.S. financial sanctions and the fear of more.

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The Treasury Department said the aim “was to discourage future investment in government-controlled areas of Syria” as part of the broader effort to compel Assad’s government to end human rights violations.

The new measures also increase pressure on Syria’s first lady, Asma Assad, sanctioning her mother, father and siblings, who are dual British-Syrian nationals with London addresses. Other targets include Lina Mohammed Nazir al-Kinayeh, whom Treasury identified as an official in Assad’s presidential office, her husband and their businesses.

The latest sanctions follow U.S. enactment a year ago of legislation known as the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act. The act is named after a Syrian policeman who turned over photographs of thousands of victims of torture by the Assad government.

Months into the imposition of new sanctions under the act, “we are seeing that the Assad regime and its allies have no answer for it,” Joel Rayburn, the State Department’s special envoy to Syria, said Tuesday.

Until there is meaningful progress on implementing UN resolutions aimed at reaching a peaceful political outcome in Syria, Rayburn said, “we will not normalize relations with the Assad regime, nor help Assad rebuild what he has destroyed.”

Syria’s foreign ministry, in a statement from an unidentified ministry official carried by the state news agency, said Monday that U.S. sanctions on the country were a war crime. “The aggression on Syria is doomed to failure,” the statement said.

Sarah el Deeb in Beirut contributed.