US eases sanctions to aid Syria after catastrophic earthquake

QAMISHLI, Syria (North Press) – On Friday, the US eased sanctions on Syria to allow the flow of humanitarian assistance after the catastrophic earthquake that hit southern Turkey and northern Syria on Feb. 6. 

The US Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) issued a license (General License –GL 23) that authorizes for 180 days all transactions related to earthquake relief that would be otherwise prohibited by the Syrian sanctions regulations.  

“As international allies and humanitarian partners mobilize to help those affected [by the earthquake in Syria], I want to make very clear that U.S. sanctions in Syria will not stand in the way of life-saving efforts for the Syrian people,” said Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Wally Adeyemo.

“While U.S. 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,” Adeyemo added.

The Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act, also known as the Caesar Act, is a US federal law that was signed into law in December 2019 by former US President Donald Trump.

The Act imposes economic sanctions on the Syrian government and its supporters, including individuals and entities, who are found to be involved in human rights abuses or undermining the political process in Syria.

“OFAC’s GL 23 provides the broad authorization necessary to support immediate disaster relief efforts in Syria. 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,” Adeyemo noted.

At dawn on Feb. 6, a 7.8-magnitude earthquake hit Syria and Turkey, killing thousands and injuring much more. The earthquake also caused immense destruction of buildings, trapping thousands under the rubble.

Searches for victims and survivors under the rubble of the collapsed buildings continue amid great difficulty, due to the freezing and rainy weather.

The number of victims of the earthquake has risen to 3.642 in the Syrian government areas, including 1.347 deaths and 2.295 injuries as a recent toll by the Ministry of Health. 

In northwest Syria, which is under the control of the Turkish-backed opposition, the number of deaths reached 2.030 and that of the injuries reached 2.950 until 10 pm on Thursday.

Reporting by John Ahmad