WASHINGTON — Washington on Thursday placed economic sanctions on a senior Syrian general and a financier uncle of President Bashar al-Assad, adding new pressure on the regime over its bloody political crackdown.
The Treasury Department added Muhammad Makhluf, Assad’s maternal uncle and the father of already-sanctioned telecoms magnate Rami Makhluf, and 4th armored division General Aus Aslan, to its growing list of Syrian figures and organizations that Americans are banned from doing business with.
The Treasury called Makhluf, 79, someone “whom Assad used to make and move money” and an important Assad economic advisor.
“Makhluf ensured that assets in nearly all sectors were controlled by businessmen who were willing to act as proxies for the Assad regime in return for profits,” it said.
“In addition, he served as President Assad’s primary economic advisor and final decision maker on capital allocation decisions for Syrian regime investments in private banks in Syria.”
Also listed in the new sanctions were a defense ministry business — the Military Housing Establishment, and the government-controlled Real Estate Bank, the country’s second largest bank.
The Military Housing Establishment “provides funding to the regime”, the Treasury said, while the bank is “responsible for administering the Government of Syria?s borrowings.”
The move came as both the European Union and Arab League nations also stepped up sanctions pressure on the Assad regime for its brutal eight-month crackdown on political protestors which has left more than 3,500 dead.
“It has never been more critical to escalate pressure on the Syrian government to immediately cease all violence against its own people and isolate the regime from the international financial system,” said Treasury under secretary David Cohen in a statement.