The most recent death toll in the devastating 7.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Turkey and Syria on February 6th, has reached more than 40,000. While many Western and Arab nations were quick to send aid to Turkey, a majority, perhaps due to the heavy sanctions, have deliberately ignored Syria. For the past decade, Syria, in the process of rebuilding a post-war nation, has been exposed to various Western backed terrorist groups. Despite this, the first nations to send aid to Syria after the disaster were Iran, Russia, Iraq, China, and Venezuela, some of which are also sanctioned by the United States.
While continuing to implement lethal sanctions, President Biden offered empty words of solidarity to those impacted by this natural disaster, and proposed a deceiving so-called “sanctions waiver” in response to the global pressure on the United States. However, America’s continued support for terrorist occupied regions in Northern Syria reveal their hypocrisy and lack of regard for Syrian lives.
The primary factor that halted aid for relief efforts in Syria in the first place were the crippling American sanctions. Syrian Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, commented
“What exacerbated the tragedy and catastrophe was the sanctions imposed by the United States and Western countries on Syria.”
He also refuted the claim that American sanctions don’t impact humanitarian aid, by bringing up lack of medical access. He also discussed Washington’s role in threatening other nations if they were to deal with Syria or the Syrian banks.
Various leaders of other nations have also recognized the impacts of the US sanctions on their ability to provide aid to Syria. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson of China, Mao Ning commented how the United States continues to occupy the regions of Syria that produce oil, plundering more than 80 percent of their oil production as well as stealing Syria’s grain stock. She also states “In the wake of the catastrophe, the US should put aside geopolitical obsessions and immediately lift the unilateral sanctions on Syria, to unlock the doors for humanitarian aid to Syria.”
Sanctions have long been used as a weapon from the West. As a punishment for the nation’s firm stance against Western imperialist interest, sanctions have been imposed on Syria for decades. This economic weapon is commonly used by the United States as a means of attempting to incite unrest within nations for their own benefit, such as installing puppet regimes. Other nations sanctioned by the United States include Venezuela, Iran, and Yemen. Such sanctions impact various aspects of an economy from access to food, medication and energy, to communications and dealing with natural disasters.
The first wave of sanctions against Syria began in December 1979 as a response to Syria’s recognition of the people-led Islamic revolution in Iran. Syria also served as one of Iran’s few Arab allies during the American backed Iraq-Iran war in the 1980’s, which led to additional sanctions and the creation of an economic struggle now known as “the crisis of the eighties.” In 2011, during Obama’s increased efforts in destabilizing the nation, new sanctions were put in place to restrict oil export and freeze Syrian foreign assets.
Perhaps the most detrimental of sanctions was the 2019 Caesar Act. This Act gives the United States the authority to sanction any entity providing support to the Syrian government. This includes anyone supporting the oil and gas industry, or providing constructing or engineering services. Essentially anyone that does business with Syria-related authorities becomes a target of US sanctions. The Caesar Act not only attacks Syria’s ability to rebuild itself after the war, but also makes it difficult for other nations to provide humanitarian aid in crises, which can be seen in the devastation following this earthquake.
The United States’ hypocrisy shone through as the stifling sanctions halted crucial aid to Syria after the earthquake. As global criticism mounted, the US issued a “temporary sanctions waiver” in an attempt to fix their image as a “defender of human rights.” This waiver is known as the “General License 23,” which “authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian Sanctions Regulations (SySR).”
Given the legacy of the United States, specifically in attempting to destabilize Syria, it is crucial to investigate the content and purpose of such a waiver before championing it. Upon the declaration of the waiver, Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury Department, Wally Adeyemo, claimed that “US sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts,” a claim much of the international community found misleading.
Under the License, all money transfer efforts, exempting US financial institutions, must first be authorized by the American government. This proves that the License is a continued attempt by the United States to instill fear in those who try to facilitate aid efforts for the Syrian public. This License also makes no attempt to lift pre-existing sanctions on the Syrian Central Bank, or on medications and infrastructure, all of which are crucial in rebuilding the region after such a disaster.
It has also been stated that “the Department of the Treasury will continue to monitor the situation in Syria and engage with key humanitarian and disaster assistance stakeholders, including NGOs, IOs, and key partners and allies, to understand emerging challenges they may face in delivery of services.” This statement deliberately excludes institutions under the Syrian state and places emphasis on the continued engagement and funding of entities outside the government, including western funded terrorist organizations that occupy much of Northern Syria.
Syria dismissed the US “temporary sanctions waiver” by terming it as “misleading.” The Syrian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates said
“The misleading decision taken by the US administration to temporarily ease some of the cruel and unilateral sanctions on the Syrian nation is out of shame and hypocrisy, and is no different from previous gestures meant to convey an erroneous humanitarian impression. While the sanctions waiver is proclaimed to allow the flow of humanitarian aid, the realities on the ground prove the other way round.”
Despite the waiver, Western nations, with the exception of Italy, have yet to provide aid to Damascus. The Syrian Ministry of Foreign affairs and Expatriates continues, “The US administration cannot deceive Syrians and the world public opinion with the new decision, project an incredible image of itself, and abdicate responsibility for obstruction of rescue efforts to victims of the earthquake who are in dire need of basic commodities.” Syria’s permanent representative to the UN, Bassam Sabbagh, also dismissed the decision stating that the measure would be “insufficient to offset the long-term dire consequences of the coercive measures.”
The Northern region, including Idlib, which have been under the control of groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda, have been able to access foreign aid without distributing relief to the majority-held sanctioned areas. Russian Major General, Oleg Yegorov, noted that “Under the UN mandate, humanitarian assistance reaches Syria via a cross-border corridor near the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint in Idlib province into territories that are not controlled by the Syrian government. This is while the bulk of the population in other Syrian regions continues to suffer as a result of Western sanctions.” On February 14th, Abu Muhammad al-Julani, the leader of the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group, formerly known as the Al Nusra Front which is the Al-Qaeda branch in Syria, claimed during a press conference that his group does not have teams ready to secure aid deliveries through the Syrian government. He also emphasized that all the shipments coming in from the Bab al-Hawa checkpoint will only benefit these occupied territories. This further shows the West’s support for regions under terrorist affiliated organizations and not those under government held areas.
Alas, it is the devastating earthquake that has revealed the most sinister of American hypocrisies. In an effort to placate global outrage against the American imposed sanctions on Syria, they created a “temporary sanctions waiver,” which only served to emphasize their own agenda in the region. It is important to recognize that the most fruitful action that the United States can take is the removal of all sanctions placed upon Syria to alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people.
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