The United States imposed sanctions Thursday against a Syrian businessman and member of parliament with close ties to President Bashar al-Assad and members of his family.
According to the Treasury Department, the sanctions against Muhammad Hamsho prohibit any U.S. citizen from engaging in commercial or financial interactions with him. They also freeze any of his assets currently held in U.S. jurisdiction.
"Muhammad Hamsho earned his fortune through his connections to regime insiders, and during the current unrest, he has cast his lot with (al-Assad) and others responsible for the Syrian government's violence and intimidation against the Syrian people," Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen said in a news release announcing the sanctions. "The sanctions we are applying today to Hamsho and his company are the direct consequence of his actions."
According to the Treasury Department, Hamsho is a powerful figure in Syria whose businesses have interests in a wide range of sectors in the nation's economy, including construction, civil contracting for water, oil, gas and infrastructure projects, Internet services, television production, and the production of ice cream.
Hamsho is also a close associate of Mahir al-Assad, the brother of the Syrian president, and has served as a front man for al-Assad and a number of his businesses, the department said. In addition, Hamsho has provided gifts to gain the favor of senior Syrian officials, and has served as a front on behalf of a Syrian official to obscure that official's illicit financial and business transactions, it said.
In his own bids for election to the Syrian parliament, Hamsho is alleged to have paid large sums of money to secure his seat, the Treasury Department said.
The sanctions are imposed under the authority of existing executive orders that target senior officials of the Syrian government.
With the death toll in Syria rising following the government's launch of a new wave of violence across the country, a bi-partisan group of senators announced earlier this week they would introduce the Syria Sanctions Act of 2011 to establish tougher U.S. sanctions against the Syrian government and hold President al-Assad and his regime accountable for their abuses.
The legislation, co-sponsored by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, Joe Lieberman, I-Connecticut, and Mark Kirk, R-Illinois, would block access to the U.S. financial system, markets and federal contracts for companies that invest in Syria's energy sector, or participate in the purchase or sale of Syrian oil and gasoline.
With the announcement of more sanctions against Syria, pressure is also mounting on the U.S. government to go even further. In an interview with CNN, Sen. Robert Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the administration should supplement its financial pressure on al-Assad with an explicit call for him to leave power.
"He needs to leave and I think the administration, I hope, can get to the point of saying that," Casey said.