Washington has issued a temporary sanctions waiver to allow earthquake relief funds to reach Syria, following widespread criticism that the bans are hampering international aid efforts in the country.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Friday issued the waiver for Caesar Act sanctions imposed on Syria, authorizing earthquake relief transactions for a period of six months.
Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury Department Wally Adeyemo said they issued the waiver to ensure the US sanctions would not get in the way of “life-saving efforts for the Syrian people.”
“While US sanctions programs already contain robust exemptions for humanitarian efforts, today Treasury is issuing a blanket General License to authorize earthquake relief efforts so that those providing assistance can focus on what’s needed most: saving lives and rebuilding.”
Syria has been a target of US sanctions since 1979. Following the start of the crisis in 2011, the US and its Western allies placed rounds of sanctions and restrictions on the Arab country. The sanctions intensified with the passing of the Caesar Act in 2019, which targeted any individual and business that participated either directly or indirectly in Syria’s reconstruction efforts.
In the wake of the devastating earthquake, a storm of criticism was triggered against the impact of the US sanctions on the humanitarian situation in Syria, particularly on relief efforts following the quake. The US claims its sanctions have exemptions for humanitarian aid. However, experts say the sanctions intimidate countries against dealing with the Syrian government, and even when aid is involved, those who want to assist usually refrain from doing so due to the high risk of US consequences.
On Wednesday, Bassam Sabbagh, Syria’s permanent UN envoy, said international cargo planes have been refusing to land in Syrian airports due to the threat of sanctions.
Earlier, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement the sanctions prevent Syrians from importing rescue equipment. It said the Syrians are also denied access to medicines and medical equipment.
Other countries have also criticized the US bans, including China, which on Wednesday urged the US to put aside its “geopolitical obsession” and remove its unilateral sanctions on Syria.
Search and rescue operations continue in Syria and Turkey five days after the massive quake there, whose death toll has already passed 22,000 in both countries.
The World Health Organization has urged the global community to lend a helping hand to Syria as the country’s humanitarian needs are particularly high.
The US and its allies have ruled out the possibility of dealing directly with the Syrian government in quake relief efforts. On Monday, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US will send aid to Syria through non-governmental organizations without engaging with the Syrian government.