US sanctions key Syria officials on eve of Ghouta gas attack anniversary

Several military commanders, a key presidential adviser and a Baath Party official targeted

US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo speaks during a press conference with Iraq's Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein at the State Department in Washington, DC on August 19, 2020.  / AFP / MANDEL NGAN

The United States on Thursday hit Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's government and military with sanctions on key individuals in a bid to end the regime’s attacks on civilians.

The sanctions came on the eve of the seventh anniversary of the chemical weapons attack on Syria’s Ghouta. Hundreds of people were killed in the eastern suburb of Damascus on August 21, 2013.

The final death toll ranges between 281 people, according to the French government, and 1,728, according to the Syrian opposition.

“We reaffirm our commitment to not stand by idly while Assad prolongs this conflict and the suffering of the Syrian,” Mr Pompeo said.

He said the US was designating the leadership of several Syrian military units as well as key regime officials for preventing efforts to achieve a national ceasefire in the country.

National Defence Forces commander Fadi Saqr was designated as was 42nd Brigade Commander Brig Gen Ghaith Dalah of the 4th Division, one of the best-equipped and well-trained arms of the Syrian military. The US also listed Tiger Force Hayder Regiment commander Samer Ismail. The Tiger Force is also known as the 25th Special Mission Forces Division.

“They have shattered the social contract between citizens and the military sworn to protect them," Mr Pompeo said.

Officials in the presidential office and in the Baath Party were also among the six targeted.

Washington named Luna Al Shibl and her husband Mohamad Ammar Saati bin Mohamad Nawzad.

“These Syrian government officials actively contribute to the oppression of the Assad regime,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. “The United States will continue to impose costs on those facilitating the Assad regime’s ongoing war against its own people.”

Ms Al Shibl, a former television anchor turned presidential adviser, was described by Washington as a prominent member of Mr Al Assad’s inner circle and one of the most senior press officers for the regime.

Washington said she was targeted with sanctions as she has been instrumental in developing Mr Al Assad’s false narrative that he maintains control of the country.

“Despite countless Syrian civilians living under desperate siege in Syria’s decade-long war, Al Shibl orchestrated photo ops for Assad among cheering Syrians,” the treasury department said.

The Office of Foreign Assets Control also targeted Mr Saati, a senior Syrian Baath Party official and a member of the Central Committee headed by Mr Al Assad.

Mr Saati was also accused of using the National Union of Students, which he headed, to promote the Baath Party abroad.