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Biden Admin Halts Syria Sanctions, Boosting Assad and Fueling Concerns of Weapons Smuggling, Lawmakers Say

A merchant counts Syrian pound notes, bearing a portrait of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at the Bzourieh market in the centre of the Syrian capital Damascus on September 11, 2019. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES
A merchant counts Syrian pound notes, bearing a portrait of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, at the Bzourieh market in the centre of the Syrian capital Damascus on September 11, 2019. LOUAI BESHARA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Following the 7.8 Earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria last week, President Biden decided to halt sanctions on the Syrian government this week, prompting outrage from congressional representatives and experts who argue that the decision will prop up dictator Bashar al-Assad and make it easier for his regime to misuse humanitarian assistance. The latest news from Washington comes with growing concerns that the Islamic Republic of Iran is using the crisis to potentially smuggle arms to Syria along with its terrorist proxy Hezbollah.

According to an authorization review copy obtained by the Washington Free Beacon, the United States Treasury Department issued a license that froze all measures blocking financial transactions in Damascus.

The purpose of such a license was to make humanitarian aid reach the country easily. Officials note that such a license is not needed and is enough to allow Assad to take international aid funds to pay for his war on opposition groups and potentially help his allies.

Speaking to the Washington Free Beacon, Republican Senator James Risch from Idaho, a ranking member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said that President Biden's Syria general license "has no controls to prevent diversions that could allow aid money to end up in the hands of the regime. "It is misguided and will be a windfall to Assad," said Risch.

Senator Risch and other officials familiar with the authorization say it is a boost for the Assad regime given that current American sanctions include exceptions for humanitarian aid.

The administration has tried on numerous occasions since taking office to waive a range of sanctions on Syria as part of a plan to normalize the Assad regime.

According to Republican lawmakers, after the recent earthquake, the administration believes it has the opportunity to mitigate sanctions, creating a "dangerous" precedent, Senator Risch and other lawmakers.

"Easing sanctions on Assad without guardrails opens the door for the regime to line its pockets without helping those in need," said Republican Representative Joe Wilson from South Carolina.

"Even worse, this feeds into the Assad regime's false claims that U.S. sanctions were preventing aid and assistance efforts to the Syrian people.

Instead of lifting sanctions, the Biden administration should hold Russian President Vladimir Putin and Assad responsible for prohibiting aid from going through the Turkey-Syria border crossings."

According to reports about the license, it is active for 180 days and allows for "certain earthquake disaster relief" and "associated financial transactions."

The specific type of transactions allowed under the waiver is not outlined in the document, prompting concerns that Assad's Iranian and Russian allies could transfer the funds to the dictator under a false disguise of disaster aid.

Additionally, the waiver does not provide a plan on how earthquake relief transactions are defined.

The latest move by the administration comes as Israel and other national security experts are worried that the Islamic Republic of Iran will use the humanitarian aid efforts to smuggle weapons into Syria.

On Monday, the Foreign Desk reported that the head of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Quds Force, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani, was spotted in the western Syrian city of Latakia to observe humanitarian aid and the losses from the earthquake victims, according to various photographs and videos circulating on social media.

According to a social media account Intelli Times, the IRGC Quds Force Chief was also seen with Mohammad Reza Zahedi, an acting liaison to Hezbollah and Syria's intelligence on arms shipment.

On social media, a video from Intelli Times showed a massive convoy of trucks sent by the Iranian-backed Shiite Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, sending soldiers and supplies to Syria to aid with the earthquake.

The Lebanese satellite television station, Al-Manar, operated by Hezbollah, also confirmed the convoy's arrival, noting that it was dubbed "Compassionate" and included around 22 trucks with food, medical and humanitarian aid to the quake-hit area.


In addition to Hezbollah forces arriving in Syria, users on social media also posted that officials from the Iranian-backed Iraqi terrorist organization Hash al Shaabi crossed into the Syrian border to help with the earthquake relief efforts, meeting with Syrian, Hezbollah, and IRGC officials.

With the administration now granting a license to the Assad regime, experts like David Adesnik, a Senior Fellow and Director of Research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD), told the Washington Beacon that the White House is "opening the door wide for sanctions evasion."

"The Assad regime has spent a decade diverting United Nations aid into its pockets while denying help to those who truly need it. Assad is desperate for cash and won't miss an opportunity to exploit this opening," said Adesnik.

Opposition groups in Syria have also raised concerns that the earthquake is providing the opportunity for the Assad regime and its allies to strengthen their grip on power and illegal activities such as arms smuggling.

Related Story: Islamic Republic of Iran Brags About New Missile Shipments to Hezbollah and Other Terrorist Groups

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