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UPDATE 2-U.S. sanctions Syrian oil firm, Hezbollah
By Rachelle Younglai
WASHINGTON Aug 10 (Reuters) - The United States imposed a new round of largely symbolic penalties against Syria on Friday that targeted state-run oil company Sytrol and said it was exposing Hezbollah for providing support to President Bashar al-Assad's government.
The Lebanese Shi'ite group, which is allied with Iran and was designated by the United States as a terrorist organization in 1990s, has been providing training and extensive logistical support to Syria's government, the U.S. Treasury said.
Assad is seeking to crush a 17-month rebellion in Syria, a strategic country that borders Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Turkey.
U.S. officials said they did not know if the sanctions would have any financial effect on Hezbollah or whether other nations would impose economic penalties against the group, suggesting that they were mostly symbolic. Any Hezbollah assets under U.S. jurisdiction have been frozen for years under previous orders.
"We believe that if they (other nations) are presented with this information ... they may want to take additional measures and over the long term that will limit the amount of space that Hezbollah has to operate," said Daniel Benjamin, the State Department coordinator for counterterrorism.
"We do see very concrete benefits coming from this designation, whether they will be in the area of financial sanctions or not remains to be seen. But in terms of casting a bright light on what the group is doing, I think that is vitally important," Benjamin said on call with reporters.
The United States has accused Hezbollah of directly training Syrian government officials within the country and of facilitating the training of Syrian forces by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Americans have been banned from doing business with Hezbollah since the foreign terrorist designation and Syria's central bank and top Syrian government officials are already blocked from U.S. markets.
The announcement came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton heads to Turkey as both countries grapple with the uprising in Syria, where Assad's forces were seeking to re-establish control over Aleppo, Syria's largest city.
Washington also imposed additional sanctions on Syria's state-run oil company, Sytrol, for having provided gasoline to Iran. The new penalties block Sytrol's U.S. banking and property transactions, though U.S. entities are already prohibited from dealing with the company.
Last year, the United States took steps to freeze Syrian assets held under U.S. jurisdiction, barred Americans from exporting services to Syria, banned U.S. imports of Syrian petroleum products and added Sytrol to its blacklist of companies hit with asset freezes.
Sytrol was penalized on Friday under the Iran Sanctions Act, which has been strengthened in recent years to make it more difficult for companies to trade with the energy sector in Iran.
The West suspects Iran of seeking nuclear arms, which the country denies. Iran saying its nuclear program is solely for civilian purposes such as generating electricity.
An Obama administration official said the sanctions were designed to further deter the international business community from working with Syria's and Iran's energy sector.
The State Department said that in April, Syria and Iran engaged in two-way trade in the energy sector in which Syria sent 33,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran. It said the United States put the value of the gasoline delivered by Sytrol to Iran in April at more than $36 million, well above the thresholds for triggering sanctions under the Iran sanctions act.
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