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U.S. easing sanctions on quake-hit Syria proof of indifference to humanitarian needs

Rescuers work near the rubble of a building destroyed in a powerful earthquake

Cairo, Egypt | Xinhua | After the tragic loss of at least 3,500 lives in quake-hit Syria, the United States, bowing to international pressure, announced a temporary easing of sanctions on the war-torn country.

It came four days after the strong earthquakes rocked on Monday, missing the Golden 72 hours for rescue. The sanctions led to a severe humanitarian crisis for the Syrian people.

The easing of sanctions illustrates how Washington’s previous claims that its sanctions don’t target aid to the quake-hit country were utterly false, clearly revealing U.S. indifference to the humanitarian situation in Syria.

URGENT HUMANITARIAN CRISIS

As of Sunday night local time, at least 3,500 people were killed in both the government-control and rebel-held areas, according to the Syrian government and aid agencies.

The earthquake hit Aleppo, Latakia, Tartous, and Hama in northern Syria and the rebel-held Idlib province.

Many Syrians criticized the brutal U.S. blockade surrounding their country from every direction, which has badly hampered rescue work and led to high casualties.

On Thursday, the U.S. Department of the Treasury issued Syria General License 23, which, according to its announcement, “authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations.”

Thuraya al-Saeedi, a displaced Syrian living at the Sarada camp in southern Lebanon who lost four of her relatives in Aleppo, said the U.S. decision comes too late.

Syria’s Health Minister Hassan al-Ghabbash noted that the suffering of Syria’s medical sector is not a result of the recent massive earthquakes that hit the country on Monday but rather the Western sanctions imposed on Syria for 12 years.

“Due to a lack of tools, some rescuers had to dig through the rubble with bare hands in search of survivors in snow and rain,” said Muhammad Hijazi, chairman of the Aleppo Governorate Council.

INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE

The U.S. eased sanctions only after repeated calls from international organizations and several countries.

On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres announced that “the humanitarian crisis in northwestern Syria was already worsening, with needs at their highest level since the conflict began.”

He stressed, “this is a moment in which everybody must make very clear that no sanctions of any kind interfere with relief to the population of Syria in the present moment.”

For his part, Geir Pedersen, UN special envoy for Syria, said that “emergency response must not be politicized.” On Thursday, the first UN aid convoy crossed from Türkiye to Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday demanded an immediate lifting of U.S. sanctions on Syria as the tremor-stricken country is facing a severe humanitarian crisis.

“Even today, U.S. troops still occupy Syria’s principal oil fields, plunder more than 80 percent of the country’s oil production, and have smuggled and burned Syria’s grain stock, exacerbating the humanitarian crisis there,” said Mao Ning, spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

On Thursday, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian deplored the U.S. sanctions on Syria, saying they have exacerbated the situation of the quake-hit people in the Arab country.

Wasel Abu Youssef, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, said the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria requires an end to “collective punishment, especially the Caesar Act imposed by the United States,” adding the U.S. sanctions on Syria “have no justification for their continuation.”

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act of 2019, also known as the Caesar Act, is a piece of U.S. legislation that sanctions the Syrian president and government over what Washington claimed to be “war crimes against the Syrian people.” The act was signed into law by former U.S. President Donald Trump in late 2019 and came into effect in mid-2020.

LIES WITH INDIFFERENCE

Experts said that the U.S. announcement softening sanctions “to support earthquake relief efforts” proved the country’s previous lies that its sanctions don’t target humanitarian aid to the quake-hit country.

Syrian political expert Mohamed Al-Omari told Xinhua that “the U.S. Treasury’s announcement is a confession” that Washington lied by claiming its sanctions did not affect humanitarian aid.

Kamal al-Jafa, another Syrian political expert, echoed that if the previous U.S. claims were correct, it would not have decided to ease the sanctions for six months.

“This decision indicates that Washington knows the sanctions imposed on the Syrian people were unjust and led to worsening the living conditions over the past few years,” he added.

Some experts said that Washington’s latest move is far from enough to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.

Adel Samara, a Palestinian political expert from the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, told Xinhua the U.S. move is merely a show for the media, with little change on the ground.

Saeb Rawashdeh, a political analyst at the Jordan Press Foundation, said relieving transactions for 180 days shows “a lack of concern for the actual well-being of the Syrian people.”

“The Syrian people deserve access to the resources and support they need to recover and rebuild their lives and communities, regardless of political considerations,” he added.

Ahmed Maher Abo-Gabal, an Egyptian researcher in international relations and political affairs, said U.S. Treasury’s announcement comes too late given the high death toll.

“Six months is by no means enough time for reconstruction in the quake-hit areas,” he added.

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