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Lebanon denies endorsing US sanctions act targeting Syrian government

Prime minister's office says the government only intends to study the effect of sanctions on Lebanon's economy
According to Lebanese media, the sanctions are expected to hit Lebanon-based individuals and entities (AFP/File photo)
By in
Washington

Lebanon has denied endorsing a US sanctions act that targets the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The office of Prime Minister Hassan Diab rubbished media reports on Monday which claimed Lebanon had endorsed the Caesar Act, stating it was simply seeking to "study the impact" of the legislation on Lebanon.

The act, which is named after a Syrian military photographer who smuggled tens of thousands of gruesome photos out of the country that documented evidence of war crimes, was passed by the US Senate in December as part of the Trump administration's $738bn defence policy bill.

The act sanctions the Syrian government as well as individuals and entities with links to Damascus, including firms and businesses working in the country's energy, aviation, construction and engineering sectors.

"Some media outlets have published a report claiming that the Caesar Act for US sanctions was distributed during the cabinet session and that the government has endorsed this law," Diab's office said in a statement.

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"The truth is that the government intends to study the impact of this act on Lebanon and the margins that the government could work within while avoiding negative repercussions against the country.

"No commitment, discussion or endorsement of this Act took place during the Cabinet session," the statement added.

According to Lebanese media, US sanctions are expected to target Lebanon-based individuals and businesses with ties to Syria.

Mouaz Moustafa, the executive director of the Syrian Emergency Task Force, a group which helped draft the act, said the US planned to roll out sanctions over the summer that "will include Lebanese or Lebanon-based personalities or entities".

"The law aims to prevent any normalisation by countries like Lebanon, China or the United Arab Emirates with the Syrian regime," Moustafa told L'Orient-Le Jour.

"Any country that hosts people or companies doing this (helping Syria) is targeted."

Lebanese banks have already closed the accounts of sanctioned Syrians and downplayed the roles of those sitting on the boards of Syrian banking affiliates, such as Rami Makhlouf in Bank Byblos Syria, and Ahmad al-Kuzbari in Banque Libano-Francaise' Syrian arm, Bank Al Sharq.

On Sunday, US Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea announced that Washington planned to impose new sanctions against Hezbollah and possibly against supporters of the group.

Hezbollah backs Assad in Syria's war and has sent fighters across the border and maintained military bases and training centres there.