New sanctions on Syria, Hezbollah cite Syrian carnage

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Obama administration announced largely redundant sanctions against Hezbollah and a Syrian oil company that deals with Iran, citing the involvement of the terrorist group and Iran in the Syrian carnage.

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The U.S. Treasury’s designation Friday of Hezbollah as a terrorist group was symbolic; the State Department has for years designated Hezbollah as a terrorist group, banning Americans from any interactions with it or its officials.

“Hezbollah’s extensive support to the Syrian government’s violent suppression of the Syrian people exposes the true nature of this terrorist organization and its destabilizing presence in the region,” David Cohen, the undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in the statement.

A State Department statement designated Styrol, a Syrian state-run oil company, for sanctions for doing business with Iran’s energy sector.

This action also is more or less symbolic, as there already are U.S. sanctions on Syria’s own energy sector.

The statement made it clear that Iran’s role in the Assad regime’s repression of opposition forces in Syria, where the conflict has so far cost 17,000 lives, helped drive the new sanctions.

“Though these sanctions are a direct result of Syria’s provision of gasoline to Iran, the United States views Iran’s broader support for the Assad regime as completely unjustifiable,” the statement said. “Iran is actively advising, supplying, and assisting the Syrian security forces and regime-backed militias that are carrying out gross human rights abuses against the Syrian people.”

The Obama administration is coming under increased pressure by lawmakers in Congress as well as the Syrian opposition to increase its support for efforts to oust the Assad regime.

In a call discussing the new measures with reporters, Daniel Benjamin, the State Department’s counterterrorism coordinator, said the Obama administration’s assessment was that Hezbollah, backed by Iran, continued to pose a threat against Israeli and Western targets.

“Hezbollah maintains a presence in Europe, and its recent activities demonstrate that it is not constrained by concerns about collateral damage or political fallout that could result from conducting operations there,” he said.  “Our assessment is that Hezbollah and Iran will both continue to maintain a heightened level of terrorist activity in operations in the near future, and we assess that Hezbollah could attack in Europe or elsewhere at any time with little or no warning.”

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