US eases sanctions on Syria

camel_smallSeeking to enable relief and reconstruction activities in opposition-controlled areas of Syria, the US has eased economic sanctions on the country, the US Department of State said in a statement to the media.

According to the media note, which was reviewed by Diplomatic News, Secretary of State John F. Kerry signed a limited waiver of the Syria Accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act of 2003.

“The waiver authorises the export and re-export, subject to case-by-case review, of certain US-origin items to liberated areas of Syria for the benefit of the Syrian people,” the note said.

The Department of Commerce will now be processing licence applications for export and re-exports of commodities, software, and technology etc.

Currently, the export of food and medicine does not require a licence and medical devices are covered under an existing waiver.

“Our priority in Syria is to help the people, ensuring that food and medical supplies can reach Syrians afflicted by the ongoing conflict. We also recognise that rebuilding Syria’s future requires helping preserve the country’s cultural heritage and we want to ensure that sanctions do not impede that important effort,” the note added.

Syria has been mired in turmoil ever since anti-government protests erupted in March 2011. In what began as a handful of demonstrators demanding release of political prisoners gradually spread across the country as a civilian uprising. Later, the events turned ugly and sectarian to become an open war between Shia Muslims (pro-government fighters) and Sunni rebels.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is aided by Lebanese Hezbollah fighters, while the opposition is reportedly funded and armed by Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The European Union had recently lifted an arms embargo on the Syrian Opposition. According to media reports, the UK and France — the EU’s biggest military powers — are mulling sending arms to the opposition to hasten the fall of the Assad regime. Russia, on the other hand, supports Assad.

The US has so far not openly admitted to sending weapons to the rebels. It is reportedly worried if sophisticated weapons are sent to the opposition, it might end up in the hands of extreme radical elements that support the rebels, such as some al-Qaida-affiliated groups.

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