The United States has imposed sanctions on Samer Foz, a Syrian industrialist behind high-end developments, including the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, for allegedly enriching President Bashar al-Assad.

“This Syrian oligarch is directly supporting the murderous Assad regime and building luxury developments on land stolen from those fleeing his brutality,” Sigal Mandelker, the undersecretary of the treasury for terrorism and financial intelligence, said in a statement on Tuesday. 

The US Treasury Department blacklisted properties of Foz and his Aman Holding Company including the Four Seasons, the high-end hotel that has stayed operational during Syria’s long-running civil war.

The hotel has become a base for United Nations employees in Syria, a point of controversy for Assad opponents who question where the money paid by international staff goes.

Foz-owned ASM International General Trading and its affiliates throughout the Middle East were also included in the sanctions. ASM is involved in grain and sugar trade, and oil field operations.

“Samer Foz, his relatives, and his business empire have leveraged the atrocities of the Syrian conflict into a profit-generating enterprise,” Mandelker said.

Under the sanctions, any of Foz’s US assets will be frozen and any US transactions with him or his properties forbidden. 

The Treasury Department said Foz had shipped into Syria oil from its ally Iran, despite unilateral US sanctions on all exports out of the Islamic Republic.   

In the notice, the Treasury Department also said that Foz had taken advantage of an order issued by Assad in 2012 to expel residents of poorer areas to make way for luxury construction.

“This tactic – taking over property owned by Syrian citizens and handing the land to wealthy regime insiders to develop in exchange for revenue sharing – has emerged as Assad’s go-to strategy for high-end reconstruction in war-torn Syria,” the Treasury Department said.

The move comes as Assad, backed militarily by Russia, continues for a sixth consecutive week a bloody bombing campaign against a string of rebel-held towns and villages in Syria’s northwest.

Rescuers say the major aerial campaign has killed over 1,500 people, with more than half of them being civilians.

Meanwhile, more than 300,000 people have fled the front lines in Idlib province, the last rebel-held major bastion, to the safety of areas near the border with Turkey, according to the UN.

Throughout more than eight years of conflict, opposition groups have fought troops loyal to Assad in a bid to overthrow him following a peaceful uprising that quickly turned violent.  

In 2015, when Russia intervened, Assad’s forces began taking back large swaths of land from armed rebel factions across the country while consistently breaking ceasefire agreements by launching attacks inside the so-called “de-escalation zones”.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been killed since the Syria conflict started in 2011, while millions more have been forced from their homes.

SOURCE:
Al Jazeera and news agencies

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