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As Syria tries to recover from a nearly decade-long war, the US has imposed crippling new sanctions under the Caesar Act that target reconstruction.

“For Syrians, sanctions on reconstruction and on oil and gas are likely to be felt most acutely,” the Washington Post reports. “The Caesar Act will probably limit the government’s ability to procure oil, further hurting the already low quality of life.” The new sanctions follow earlier coercive measures that had already hurt Syrian civilians, compounding the destruction of a lengthy proxy war fueled and funded by the US and its allies.

Guest: Elijah Magnier, veteran war correspondent who has covered the Middle East for more than three decades.

As Syria tries to recover from a nearly decade-long war, the US has imposed crippling new sanctions that explicitly target reconstruction. Under the Caesar Act, the US government will target anyone who does business with the Syrian government. The measure singles out three sectors of Syrian society: the military, the gas industry, and reconstruction in government-held areas — where the vast majority of Syrians live. According to the Washington Post:  “For Syrians, sanctions on reconstruction and on oil and gas are likely to be felt most acutely… The Caesar Act will probably limit the government’s ability to procure oil, further hurting the already low quality of life.”

These sanctions have already had a major toll even before coming into force. Just last week, the Syrian pound hit a record low, plunging to less than a fifth of its value one year ago. And that follows the suffering caused by previous US-led sanctions. In 2018, a UN report warned that US-led sanctions “have had a devastating impact on the entire economy and the daily lives of ordinary people.”

The Caesar Act is named after the pseudonym used by a Syrian military officer who leaked more than 50,000 photos documenting deaths and torture in Syria. The photo collection contains multiple images of the same victims. Now there is no doubt that the Syrian government practices brutal torture and kills prisoners. But lost in the media coverage of the Caesar photos are some key facts. For one, according to Human Rights Watch, just under half of the photos capture killings and attacks committed by anti-government militants. There are over 24,000 of such photos, while there are over 28,000 photos documenting killings, attacks, and torture by the Syrian government. 

That suggests that the photos captured killings committed by both sides of a multi-year war that tore Syria apart. The initial investigation of the Caesar photos was also funded by the Qatari government, which played a key role in funding the anti-government militants in Syria. As the Christian Science Monitor noted, while all the allegations might well be plausible, “…the [Caesar] report itself is nowhere near as credible as it makes out and should be viewed for what it is: A well-timed propaganda exercise funded by Qatar, a regime opponent who has funded rebels fighting Assad who have committed war crimes of their own.” When the photos first emerged, it was on the eve of critical peace talks between Assad and the opposition.