The United States has added sanctions against Syria in response to President Bashar al-Assad's campaign of government violence against civilian protesters.
Sanctions were announced Wednesday by the U.S. Treasury Department against Syriatel, a mobile phone firm, as well as two banks – the Commercial Bank of Syria and the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank.
Syriatel is owned or controlled by Rami Makhluf, described as “a powerful Syrian businessman and regime insider.” A cousin and longtime confidant of Assad, Makhluf was cited once before “for improperly benefiting from and aiding the public corruption of Syrian regime officials.”
He has recently announced plans to resign and enter charity work, according to CNN.
The Treasury Department notes, however, that “despite attempts to obscure his controlling interest in Syriatel, Makhluf has continued to own and run the telecommunications company.”
Syria's largest bank was cited for providing financial services to the country's Scientific Studies and Research Center, and the Tanchon Commercial Bank of North Korea.
The Scientific Studies and Research Center “controls Syria's missile production facilities and oversees Syria's facilities to develop unconventional weapons and their delivery systems.”
According to the Treasury Department, Tanchon is “the primary financial agent” for Korea Mining Development Corp., described as “North Korea's premier arms dealer and main exporter of goods and equipment related to ballistic missiles and conventional weapons.”
The U.S. has been mulling over whether to join protesters' calls for Assad's ouster. Last week President Barack Obama issued a statement condemning the ongoing violence by Syrian government forces against unarmed civilians.