Brussels and London, Asharq Al-Awsat—New European Union sanctions targeting aides of the Syrian regime prove that President Bashar Al-Assad’s claims of being the last bulwark against jihadist groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the country are a “sham,” Britain’s Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond said on Saturday.
The EU issued sanctions against “seven persons and six entities providing support to the Syrian regime as well as benefitting from it” on Friday. They included George Haswani, a prominent Syrian businessman said to be in direct contact with Assad and accused of brokering oil deals between the regime and ISIS.
The Syrian government has maintained since the beginning of the conflict in the country in 2011 that it is battling terrorist groups such as ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front and not its own people.
But in the statement, Hammond said the EU’s including Haswani on its sanctions list gave “yet another indication that Assad’s ‘war’ on [ISIS] is a sham and that he supports them financially.”
The sanctions against Haswani represent one of the first official positions taken by Western countries acknowledging the links between the terror group and the Syrian regime, a position long maintained by those in the region and beyond.
The sanctions, which comprise asset freezes and travel bans on individuals, also targeted those responsible for the Ghouta chemical attack in August 2013, which killed up to 1,729 people in the Damascus suburb, according to estimates.
“We are targeting developers, proliferators and users of chemical weapons,” Hammond added.
They included businessman Bayan Al-Bitar, who heads two manufacturing and information technology companies under the authority of the country’s defense ministry, and is said to have helped the Syrian regime manufacture chemical weapons
Another is Ghassan Abbas, who is in charge of a scientific research center in Jamraya, 3 miles (4.8 kilometers) northwest of Damascus, and accused of being directly involved in the Ghouta attack.
Hammond also said in the statement the sanctions were targeting “businessmen and companies supporting the brutal Shabiha militias” allied to the Syrian regime and accused of committing numerous atrocities against civilians.
They included Hamsho Trading, a manufacturing company accused of helping fund the Shabiha, as well as its chief executive Emad Hamsho and its subsidiary Syria Steel, which Hamsho uses to manufacture arms for the Syrian regime.
This brings the total number of EU-sanctioned individuals and entities involved in the Syrian conflict to 218 and 69, respectively.
Hammond stressed that the EU would “continue applying pressure to the regime until it reassesses its position, ends the violence and engages in meaningful negotiations with the moderate opposition.”