US slaps sanctions on Syrian defence minister over Idlib violence

State Department sanctions Lt Gen Ali Ayoub for blocking ceasefire in northern Syria

A woman walks past a poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Syria March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
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The US State Department has announced sanctions on Syria’s defence minister for the role he played in blocking a ceasefire in northern Syria.

It said Lt Gen Ali Ayoub was sanctioned for “deliberate actions since December 2019 to prevent a ceasefire from taking hold”.

“This obstruction resulted in almost a million people being displaced and in dire need of humanitarian aid in the middle of a cold winter in Idlib,” the department said.

It said forces supporting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad "have been responsible for the continued bombardments that destroyed schools and hospitals and killed civilians, including medical professionals and first responders risking their lives to save others".

Gen Ayoub is now blocked from the US financial system and anyone who deals with him could also be subject to sanctions.

The US has railed against the offensive by the Russian-backed Syrian government in Idlib in recent months.

The violence has brought Ankara and Damascus into direct conflict and threatened to provoke a humanitarian crisis in the last remaining rebel stronghold.

On Tuesday, The US said it believed Russia had killed dozens of Turkish military personnel in its operations in Syria.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Washington also reaffirmed its support to Turkey, its Nato ally.

Last month, an air strike that Ankara said was carried out by the Syrian government forces killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers.