Washington- The US administration set new, largely symbolic, sanctions Friday on Syria's state-run oil company and the Hezbollah militant group, moves designed to underscore Iran's key role in propping up the Syrian regime over the span of its civil war.
State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said the penalties against energy firm Sytrol come after it delivered $36 million worth of gasoline to Iran in April. At the same time, Tehran was "actively advising, supplying, and assisting the Syrian security forces and regime-backed militias that are carrying out gross human rights abuses against the Syrian people."
Meanwhile, the Treasury Department targeted Hezbollah for "training, advice and extensive logistical support to the government of Syria's increasingly ruthless efforts to fight against the opposition." It also blamed the Lebanese Shiite militant group for coordinating Iranian assistance to the Syrian government.
The U.S. cited the Syrian state oil company Sytrol for trading with Iran, which already faces U.S. sanctions over is disputed nuclear program. Syria sent 33,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran in April, a deal estimated at $36 million.
The announcements came as Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was traveling to Turkey for weekend talks with top Turkish officials and Syrian opposition activists. The discussions will focus on forming a "common operational picture" to guide a democratic transition after President Bashar al-Assad leaves power, U.S. officials said.
"We will be tightening even further with additional sanctions that drive at both Syrian entities and those who are supporting the efforts of the Syrian government to oppress its own people," a U.S. official told reporters traveling with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Ghana.
Clinton will also boost humanitarian relief to tens of thousands of Syrians fleeing the country, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to speak publicly. They said the additional aid is expected to be worth $5.5 million. That brings total U.S. humanitarian relief to $82 million since the crisis began in March 2011.
The US officials said Clinton would take what she learns in Istanbul from the Turks and the Syrian activists she meets and begin to discuss points of agreement with European foreign ministers in the coming days. A new "Friends of Syria" meeting will be held in late August or early September.
In addition to the fresh American sanctions and humanitarian aid, Britain's government offered 5 million pounds (US$7.8 million) to Syria's rebel forces Friday to pay for communications equipment and medical supplies in an effort to bolster ties to the country's opposition.
The United States and its Western allies are stopping short of providing lethal assistance to the opposition, but it has become an open secret that several Arab countries are supplying weapons and ammunition