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Syrian opposition says Caesar sanctions will force Assad regime to negotiate

The Syrian opposition 'interim government' has welcomed the Caesar Act [Twitter]

Date of publication: 17 June, 2020

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The economy minister of the Syrian opposition ‘interim government’ says new US sanctions against the regime target key economic sectors and will force the regime back to the negotiating table.

The Syrian opposition “interim government” has welcomed the implementation of US sanctions passed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, the Anadolu news agency reported on Tuesday night.

At a live event broadcast on the Internet by the Horan Foundation humanitarian group, the interim government’s economy minister, Abdul Hakim Al-Masri said that the Ceasar Act sanctions will force the Assad regime to negotiate with the opposition.

“If countries are serious about implementing [the sanctions] the regime will be forced to move to a political settlement.”

The opposition interim government operates in areas of Syria held by anti-Assad rebels. With heavy backing from Russia and Iran, the Assad regime has since 2015 managed to capture areas of Syria previously held by rebels, leaving only the Idlib region and areas near the Turkish border under rebel control.

In late 2019, the regime launched a deadly assault on Idlib province, causing over a million refugees to flee and sparking Turkish intervention. A ceasefire was reached in March but it is frequently violated by the regime and its backers.

Read more: What is the Caesar Act and how will new US sanctions impact Syria

Al-Masri said that the Caesar Act targets the regime’s aviation, energy, and telecommunications sectors and aims to cut off financing for the regime’s ‘reconstruction projects’, adding that the regime and its backers would be ‘totally’ targeted by the Caesar law.

He noted that a passage in the Caesar Act allows food and medical supplies to enter Syria – after US presidential authorization - without being subject to sanctions. However, he said that the regime could be used by the regime “as an excuse to pressure the people”.

An estimated 80 percent of Syrians live in poverty and Syria is currently facing an economic crisis as the value of the Syrian lira plummets. The regime reportedly reduced the official exchange rate of the lira from 704 liras to one dollar down to 1,256 liras to one dollar on Wednesday.

On the black market, the lira is trading at approximately 3,000 liras to one dollar.

The crisis has left many Syrians unable to buy essential items and protests against Assad have broken out in regime-controlled areas, notably in Suweida.

The regime has blamed the crisis on the Caesar Act but many observers have said that other factors are responsible, including the inability of Iran and Russia to continue supporting the regime financially and corruption and in-fighting among key regime figures.

On Tuesday, the UN’s envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, said that Syrians could face starvation and that 9.3 million people in the country are suffering from food insecurity, with two million more threatened by it.

Pedersen added that coronavirus could increasingly threaten Syria as a result of the economic chaos.

The US insists that its sanctions only target the regime, not the Syrian people.

On Tuesday US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft told the UN Security Council that the aim of the sanctions was to “prevent the Assad regime from securing a military victory” and deprive it of “the revenue and the support it has used to commit the large-scale atrocities and human rights violations that prevent a political resolution”.

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