US imposes more Iran sanctions and hits Syrian regime with penalties for drug trafficking

The U.S. has imposed sanctions on a group of firms and one individual across six countries involved in commodity shipments and business transactions that benefit Iran’s military and the Houthi militant group in Yemen and Hezbollah militia in Lebanon

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on a money exchanger and a group of firms across six countries involved in commodity shipments and business transactions that benefit Iran's military and the Houthi militant group in Yemen and the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon.

The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control sanctioned six firms, two tankers and a money exchanger, all either based or registered in Liberia, India, Vietnam, Lebanon or Kuwait. They are accused of materially benefiting Iran, the Houthis and Hezbollah.

Hezbollah and the Houthis have been launching regular attacks since the onset of Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, and they have sparked international concern that the war in the Palestinian enclave could spill over into the rest of the Middle East.

Hezbollah militants and Israeli troops exchange fire on a near-daily basis along Lebanon’s southern border, which has led to the displacement of tens of thousands of people on both sides. Despite losing more than 200 combatants and Israel striking deeper into the tiny country, Hezbollah maintains that it will stop launching rockets into northern Israel only when there is a cease-fire in Gaza.

Meanwhile, Yemen’s Houthi rebels, who control much of Yemen's north and west, have been launching drones and missiles on ships in the Red Sea, which they say is an effort to pressure Israel to end its war. Despite U.S.-led airstrikes over the past two months, they have carried on with their campaign.

In a separate announcement Tuesday, Treasury slapped sanctions on 11 people and entities accused of facilitating financial transfers to the Syrian government to help it duck sanctions and being involved in the trafficking of a highly addictive amphetamine called Captagon that has become a booming industry in the war-torn country.

Treasury sanctioned a Syrian identified as Taher al-Kayali and his company Neptunus LLC, accused of purchasing cargo ships to smuggle Captagon to Europe. One of his ships was intercepted by Greek authorities in 2018. Mahmoud Abulilah Al-Dj and his companies Al-Ta’ir Company and FreeBird Travel and Tourism were also sanctioned. He has had several of his drug shipments seized in Libya, and has cooperated with Abulilah. Al-Dj is also the “exclusive agent” of sanctioned Syrian airliner Cham Wings in Libya, Treasury said.

Experts say Captagon is primarily produced in Syria and Lebanon, where packages containing millions of pills are smuggled into Gulf countries, Europe and elsewhere. The trade allegedly has strong ties to Syrian President Bashar Assad and his associates, as well as the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group in neighboring Lebanon.

Western governments estimate that the industry has generated billions of dollars in revenue for Syria. Syria’s Arab neighbors, notably Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf states, have been desperate to halt the trade, as millions of pills have been smuggled in.

Meanwhile, Treasury slapped sanctions on Syria-based Maya Exchange Company, as well as Aleksey Makarov, the vice president of the listed Russian Financial Cooperation Bank, and Muhammad ’Ali Al-Minala of the Syrian central bank, who used the exchange company to make payments to “a Jordanian beneficiary”.

Treasury also slapped sanctions on STF Logistic which it claims has generated tens of millions of revenue for the Syrian government and through a 50-year contract with Damascus has been granted the right to almost three-quarters of sales revenue from Syrian mines near Palmyra. Grains Middle East Trading, and its chief executive officer Yafi David were sanctioned for serving as an intermediary for STF Logistic. The company is based in Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates.

Assad’s crackdown on protests in 2011 led to his global isolation, and his forces were accused of torture, bombing civilian infrastructure, and using chemical weapons with support of key allies Russia and Iran.

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Chehayeb contributed from Beirut, Lebanon.