WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Tuesday announced new sanctions targeting two money service businesses in Syria it said were providing financial support to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its allies. 

The Damascus-based exchange companies, Al-Fadel Exchange and the Al-Adham Exchange Company, help the government “maintain access to the international financial system in violation of international sanctions,” the Treasury Department said in a news release. 

Specifically, the Treasury accused them of having facilitated millions of dollars in transfers since 2021 to accounts in the US-designated Central Bank of Syria that are set up to benefit Assad and his government. It also said Lebanese militant group Hezbollah used the money service businesses to move money into Syria from other countries in the region. 

As part of the tranche of sanctions, the Treasury Department also blacklisted the three brothers who own and operate Al-Fadel Exchange, which it said has also facilitated payments from the regime to a Hezbollah financial official in return for shipments of Iranian oil.  

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement that the sanctions “further demonstrate that the United States’ commitment to promoting accountability for the Assad regime’s abuses and justice for victims is unwavering.” 

The sanctions come as many of Syria’s neighbors are moving to reestablish ties with Assad after more than a decade of isolation. Earlier this month, the Arab League voted to readmit Syria, whose membership was suspended over its violent crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 and atrocities against civilians. 

US officials are skeptical of the claims made by some regional states that in return for engagement the Syrian government could offer meaningful concessions, such as stemming the flow of the illegal amphetamine Captagon, reducing the presence of Iran in Syria or creating safe conditions for refugee returns. More than 12 years of war have displaced more than half of Syria’s population, with millions of refugees scattered throughout neighboring countries and Europe. 

The Biden administration says it won’t normalize relations with Assad absent major political reforms, nor will it lift the many layers of sanctions that multiple US administrations have imposed on the regime. 

“We continue to urge states in the region to consider carefully the atrocities committed by the regime on the Syrian people, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Blinken said, also citing the regime’s efforts to obstruct humanitarian aid deliveries. 

The latest sanctions are the administration’s second use of the Caesar Act, a bipartisan law that allows for sanctions on those who provide assistance to the regime’s military operations or do business with the Syrian government, specifically in the construction, engineering, energy or aviation sectors. 

In March, the administration imposed Caesar sanctions on key figures involved in Syria's Captagon trade, including several relatives of Assad. Next month, the State Department is expected to unveil a congressionally mandated strategy on curbing the flow of Captagon, which has become a major source of revenue for the Syrian regime. 

US lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have criticized what they describe as a slow pace of Syria-related sanctions under the Biden administration. Bipartisan legislation introduced in the House this month aims to strengthen the Caesar Act and would require the administration to produce an interagency strategy outlining how the United States plans to counter Assad’s regional reintegration. 

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