in Syria, the boomerang effect of American sanctions

Spraying disinfectant to curb the spread of the coronavirus inside the Palestinian refugee camp of Jaramana, on the outskirts of Damascus, on April 1. OMAR SANADIKI / REUTERS

In the debate over Syria, the issue of sanctions is one of the hottest topics. On the one hand, the Assad regime and its allies are crying out for "state terrorism", claiming that the civilian population is the main victim of these measures. On the other, the United States and the European Union boast of a targeted device, which targets only the repressive capacity of the Syrian power. In this argument, which the urgency of the fight against the coronavirus has relaunched, each of the two parts says true and false at the same time.

The Brussels and Washington sanctions take two forms: a blacklist of several hundred individuals and entities, linked to the Assad regime, who are blacklisted (asset freeze, entry ban European, etc.); and measures targeting sectors (banks, oil or electricity), to prevent the regime from financing its war effort and to deprive it of equipment that can be used for military purposes.

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These restrictions differ from the UN embargo imposed on Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Syria continues to trade with dozens of countries. Humanitarian exceptions are theoretically provided for food, pharmaceutical and medical. The dilapidation of the Syrian health system, an open door to the spread of the virus, is above all the result of the all-out bombardment policy conducted for nine years by the Syrian regime and its Russian ally.

"Where are we going to find respirators"

"A lifting of sanctions is out of the question as long as the regime does not allow humanitarian aid to enter areas beyond its control, until it stops its attacks on civilians and health structures, until it do not release political prisoners crammed into prisons where the virus is likely to circulate at full speed, and that he does not agree to seriously discuss a political resolution of the conflict, said Samer Jabbour, a Syrian public health professor based in Beirut.

The fact remains that the sanctions are not always as calibrated as their designers profess. The pressure exerted by the United States on the Syrian banking sector has turned any import from Syria into a real headache. Entrepreneurs have so far circumvented this obstacle by opening accounts abroad, notably in Lebanon, the rear base of the Syrian economy.

But this window closes due to the crisis in the cedar country and the chilling effect that the vote of the Caesar law had in December 2019, in the United States, with many financial institutions. This text, modeled on anti-Iran sanctions, threatens reprisals against any foreign entity that "Provides significant support to the Syrian government or conducts significant transactions with it".

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