How U.S. sanctions block aid to earthquake victims in Syria

Even the ancient citadel in Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, was destroyed by the 2023 earthquake.

The terrible earthquake that hit a wide area of southeastern Türkiye and neighboring Syria has reportedly killed at least 36,000 people as of Feb. 13, with estimates that this total will reach 50,000. This winter the survivors who lost their housing face freezing and wet conditions, without any alternative shelter, without any electricity, without any heating and with inadequate access to food. 

While the devastation has taken place in both countries, and Türkiye faces enormous difficulties delivering aid, it does not face the economic warfare that the U.S. and its NATO allies have directed at Syria for over a decade. Even in the midst of this humanitarian crisis, Washington has ordered a halt to any delivery of financial aid to the legitimate government of Syria.

International cargo planes cannot land in Syria; international agencies are blocked. Crowdfunding services, donations and even individual assistance is blocked. In this dire emergency situation, the U.S. has persisted in keeping the sanctions in place and blocked all forms of emergency relief.

Millions of people in the United States are sympathetic with those suffering from this catastrophe. They should be aware, however, of the role of U.S. imperialism, which has demonized and targeted the legitimate Syrian government. After over a decade of war with U.S.- and NATO-backed proxies, the Syrian people should have been poised to finally begin the costly process of rebuilding their country. 

The landslide reelection of President Bashar al-Assad’s National Progressive Front and the historic new agreement between the Syrian Arab Republic and the People’s Republic of China, to induct the country into the Belt and Road Initiative in recent years, both seemed to mark the start of a new chapter for all Syrian peoples.

However, the draconian sanctions imposed on them by the United States have blocked the resources necessary to rebuild. U.S. troops continue to occupy Syria’s principal oil-producing regions. Washington’s theft of Syrian oil and gas resources is exacerbating the economic situation. The U.S. has plundered more than 80% of Syria’s oil production and smuggled and burned Syria’s grain stock. 

Ongoing military strikes by both the U.S. and Israel, combined with these harsh economic sanctions, have caused immeasurable civilian casualties and taken away the means of subsistence for the Syrians. U.S. sanctions on other countries in the region — Lebanon, Iraq and Iran — are a further impediment to getting aid to Syria. All this has made Syria’s humanitarian crisis even worse.

To bring the truth on the ground to Workers World’s readers, this reporter spoke on Feb. 12 with Paul Larudee of the Syrian Support Movement, which has been organizing aid for the Syrian people.

Over a decade of war against Syrians

Paul Larudee: Our movement was fortunate enough to meet several Syrians who helped us to form a humanitarian aid program, in addition to the human rights program in Syria. That began in 2019, when we personally hand-carried aid to Syria. 

We also challenge the U.S. government and other governments that are imposing sanctions on Syria, because there is no active U.S. charitable organization that is operating in what I would call Syria — which does not include the very small areas that are occupied by the terrorist organizations sponsored by the United States and NATO, which are also occupying all the oil territories as well.

Where most Syrian people live, they face these draconian sanctions that prevent nearly all financial transactions between Syria and any other nation in the world, at least until recently. And the result is that Syria is being starved.

Syrians can’t buy oil, for example. They shouldn’t need to, because they have oil themselves. But the U.S., which claims to be protecting the oil, is selling it off. It’s the same with Syrian wheat, which was Syria’s other other big cash earner internationally and which is located in essentially the same occupied area. 

Thus Syria’s economy, which was growing rather quickly and doing rather well in 2010, got turned around.

Why? First of all, because Syria insists on its own sovereignty and the Syrian people don’t want to be exploited economically by other countries. Syria also refuses to cooperate with the foreign policy of NATO and its allies. And the people do not want to bow down to Israel, especially when Israel is occupying part of Syria’s territory.   . 

So when the U.S. said, “We want to build a pipeline across your territory,” President Assad responded, “No, I don’t accept for you to do that.”

Then all of a sudden on Assad’s doorstep, there was a so-called uprising of less than 10% of the population. These were extreme conservatives, the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and the U.S. imported the usual suspects, al-Qaeda and ISIS. They didn’t start out using those names necessarily, but these are the U.S. and NATO’s hired guns. They brought them in to stir things up and they have given them plenty of weapons and money.

Then they said this is a “civil war.” Not exactly so. So all of this started, and the United States isolated Syria through sanctions and basically started starving the people. So here is Syria starving, and our movement decided we would provide aid to Syria.

U.S. policy unchanged since earthquake

Larudee: Through the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), the U.S. government finally issued a revision of the sanctions. Supposedly this suspends any aspect of the sanctions that impedes the flow of relief to to help people and property connected with the earthquake. I’m sorry, but that’s a joke. It’s ridiculous.

Why? Because in the first place, the U.S. always said that the sanctions are not supposed to be used against humanitarian aid. So that was already in place. All they did was to suspend anything that would stop the delivery of humanitarian aid. So they don’t block the aid; they just made it impossible to deliver the aid. 

That’s what the U.S. has been doing for more than 10 years. And this new regulation changes nothing. It’s called General License 23 from OFAC, which says: “Okay, if it’s obstructing aid, then ignore it. Go ahead and provide aid, and we won’t prosecute you for it.” 

But the problem is, in order to get money into Syria, you need bank-to-bank relations. Your banks need to be able to send money across borders. The U.S. says they’re allowing this, supposedly for 180 days, and only for humanitarian aid.

Can you possibly believe that after setting up a relationship with Syrian banks, the Mellon Bank in New York or Citibank or Bank National de Paris is going to check every transaction that takes place, to see which ones are for earthquake-related aid and equipment, and then worry about anything that looks like it may not be quite earthquake-related?

What bank is going to actually step in and risk getting fined? And even if they did, it’s only for 180 days. The bank management will say, “This isn’t worth it. How much money will we make from the fees for this service? Why would we bother?”

I don’t expect that to happen now. So that’s why we, of course, are trying to step into the gap and get donations and deliver them the hard way, delivering aid directly to Syria.

Wolves in sheeps’ clothing

Larudee: There are a number of aid organizations that are saying, “Please give us money to help the people in Syria.” Almost invariably, these are U.S. organizations, and invariably they’re talking about helping the people who live on 3% of Syria’s land in the Idlib province, which is occupied by the Turks, and by their proxies, and the U.S. proxies, the terrorists themselves. 

So when the aid organizations say, “We want to help the people of Syria,” that’s who they’re talking about. And they’re doing it without the permission of the Syrian government.

On the other hand, even if these organizations want to operate in the rest of Syria, they can’t, because they’ve been banned by the Syrian government, because they’re enemies. They don’t have a license; they don’t have permission to practice there.

Watch out for those ads by organizations like the Syrian American Medical Society, for example. They’re advertising that they’re collecting money to help the earthquake victims in Syria. In less than 24 hours, they collected almost $300,000. 

The earthquake victims the U.S. organizations are helping in Syria are the ones who have the least need. I’m not saying they’re needless, because the occupied areas also have damage there. But they’re going to deliver the aid to people living on 3%  of the land in Syria — and not the rest of them.

Workers World: And the sad thing is, this is a sign that the U.S. working class is willing to open their hearts and their wallets and help. They know this is a horrible situation, but they don’t have the information about where the money is going. to. I wanted to ask you for a brief comment about a particular organization that gets so much press here — a movie about them even won an Oscar: the White Helmets. 

Larudee: It’s difficult to speak briefly about the White Helmets, but I’ll make it as brief as I can. Basically, they’re a fake organization which was put together by a British mercenary named James Le Mesurier, to supposedly act in times of emergency to evacuate the wounded and provide humanitarian services [during the Syrian war]. 

In the zones of Syria where they operated, they almost invariably worked to protect and provide for the needs of the families of the terrorist fighters themselves. And because they, or the terrorists who were their allies, basically killed or made life dangerous for reporters, they became the reporters on the ground.

Workers World: We see that if we want to be helpful to Syrians, we should demand: U.S. troops out of Syria!  End U.S. sanctions! Emergency relief now!

To sign a petition against U.S. sanctions or donate to the Syria Support Movement go to
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