By Ben Norton / Geopolitical Economy Report
Illegal US and EU sanctions have prevented some humanitarian aid from being sent to Syria, after a devastating earthquake killed thousands of people.
The death toll is increasing by the day, but at least 3000 Syrians had lost their lives due to the earthquake as of February 9.
Thousands of buildings were also destroyed. This is especially damaging because Syria had already been destabilized by a decade of war, fueled with billions of dollars and foreign meddling by the US, Europe, and Israel.
Syrian Arab Red Crescent director Khaled Hboubati told the Associated Press that unilateral Western sanctions have exacerbated the “difficult humanitarian situation”.
“There is no fuel even to send (aid and rescue) convoys, and this is because of the blockade and sanctions”, Hboubati warned.
Syria’s United Nations Ambassador Bassam al-Sabbagh explained that US and EU sanctions have prevented planes from landing in Syrian airports, “So even those countries who want to send humanitarian assistance, they cannot use the airplane cargo because of the sanctions”.
The country’s Foreign Minister Fayssal Mikdad stated, “The sanctions imposed by the United States and Western countries on Syria exacerbated the disaster”.
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Syrian state media Sana reported, “Mikdad also stressed that the Americans claim that they did not impose sanctions on humanitarian aid, but in reality their sanctions do not allow anything from reaching Syria, including preventing the purchase of medicines, as well as Washington and its western allies give orders to some countries and threaten them to impose sanctions on them if they negotiate with Syria or if any bank deals with Syria”.
In an interview with the Lebanon-based news network Al Mayadeen, the Syrian foreign minister emphasized that unilateral sanctions are illegal according to international law and violate the UN charter and numerous Security Council resolutions.
In November 2022, the top UN expert on sanctions published a report detailing how “outrageous” Western sanctions are “suffocating” millions of Syrian civilians and “may amount to crimes against humanity.”
When the US, Britain, and European Union launched a proxy war against Syria in 2011, they began imposing illegal unilateral sanctions. Those grew into a de facto blockade in 2019, with the passage of the so-called Caesar Act.
Because of these sanctions and war, “The whole [Syrian] population stays in life-threatening conditions with severe shortages of drinking water”, electricity, fuel, and food, reported Alena Douhan, the UN special rapporteur on the negative impact of unilateral coercive measures on human rights.
Syria’s economy shrunk by 90% due to the foreign-fueled proxy war. Today, nine in 10 Syrians live in poverty.
The “huge negative effect of unilateral sanctions” have “a devastating effect on the whole population” and “a devastating effect on nearly all categories of human rights”, Douhan reiterated.
The UN expert stated, “Maintaining unilateral sanctions amid the current catastrophic and still-deteriorating situation in Syria may amount to crimes against humanity against all Syrian people”.
Syria’s northwestern Idlib province is controlled by an extremist Salafi-jihadist militia, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), which is a rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate. It has received extensive support from NATO member Türkiye (formerly known as Turkey).
The northeastern part of Syria is occupied by the US military, in alliance with Kurdish-led forces from the SDF and YPG militias. This territory, which is effectively controlled by Washington, makes up a significant part of Syria’s oil fields and wheat production.
China condemned the US sanctions against Syria, and called for them to be lifted. While sending humanitarian aid, Beijing also denounced the US military occupation of the country and its theft of Syrian resources.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning stated:
The US has long been engaged in the Syrian crisis. Its frequent military strikes and harsh economic sanctions have caused huge civilian casualties and taken away the means to subsistence of the Syrians.
As we speak, the US troops continue to occupy Syria’s principal oil-producing regions. They have plundered more than 80% of Syria’s oil production and smuggled and burned Syria’s grain stock.
All this has made Syria’s humanitarian crisis even worse.
In the wake of the catastrophe, the US should put aside geopolitical obsessions and immediately lift the unilateral sanctions on Syria, to unlock the doors for humanitarian aid to Syria.
Syria’s neighbor Türkiye was also hit hard by the earthquake. At least 16,000 people have died in the country.
China responded by sending an 82-member rescue team and more than 20 tons of humanitarian supplies.
While Venezuela is under illegal Western sanctions and a US blockade, it has shown solidarity with the people of Syria.
In response to the earthquake, the Venezuelan government sent to Damascus a plane full of 15 tons of food, medicine, and other aid, along with a search and rescue team.
Venezuela’s ambassador to Syria, José Gregorio Biomorgi Muzattiz, stated, “Solidarity will never be blockaded”.