U.S. places new sanctions on Syrian oil company Sytrol and Hezbollah

Syria's Bashar Assad

Newscast Media WASHINGTON, D.C.—The U.S. State Department announced on Friday that it has imposed sanctions on Syria’s state-run oil company for selling 33,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran in April. The State Department said this kind of trade allows Iran to continue developing its nuclear program while providing the Syrian government with resources to oppress its own people.

“The United States remains deeply concerned about the close ties shared by the Iranian and Syrian regimes and is committed to using every tool available to prevent regional destabilization,” State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said in a statement August 10.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is on her way to Turkey for talks with Turkish leaders and Syrian opposition activists to coordinate efforts to oust the regime of Bashar al-Assad and start planning to help Syria after Assad falls, according to the article on the State Department’s Web site.

Meanwhile, the sanctions on Hezbollah were placed because the U.S. believes it is providing training, advice and “extensive logistical support” to the Assad regime. According to a Wall Street Journal, the U.S. said Hezbollah has been working closely with Iran, Mr. Assad’s other close supporter and the main U.S. nemesis in the region.

“I think it is safe to say that Hezbollah is playing a critical role in advising the Syrian government and training its personnel in how to prosecute a counterinsurgency,” Daniel Benjamin, the U.S. State Department’s coordinator for counterterrorism, said Friday. “At this point…we’re satisfied by our assessment that the group is playing an absolutely integral role in helping the Assad regime try to put down this popular movement.”

Analysts in the region argue that the U.S. is overstating Hezbollah’s role in Syria, and say the group has chosen to limit its support for Mr. Assad—endorsing Syria’s regime but not publicly taking up arms to defend it.

“Although the final decision hasn’t been made, Hezbollah has come to realize that it doesn’t serve its core objectives to get involved in Syria and Iran’s conflict,” said Omar Nashabi, a columnist for the Al-Akbar newspaper, which leans toward supporting Hezbollah. The Reuters full article can be read here.

In other reports, the rebel gangs in Aleppo are asking for more weapons from the West, because they are “slowly losing the battle” against Assad. Syrian rebels were running low on ammunition and guns Friday and appealed for international help as government forces tried to consolidate their control over Aleppo, the country’s largest city and a deadly battleground in recent weeks.

“The warplanes and helicopters are killing us, they’re up there in the sky 15 hours a day,” said Mohammad al-Hassan, an activist in Aleppo’s main rebel stronghold of Salaheddine. “I don’t know how long this situation can be sustained,” the New York Times reported in this article.

Regardless of whether the sanctions against Hezbollah will have any effect, the group has now been dragged into the crisis in Syria, and it will be interesting to see what Hezbollah’s reaction, covert or overt, will be in the weeks ahead.
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