August 15, 2006

US freezes assets of two Syrian officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States froze the U.S.
assets of two Syrian officials on Tuesday, saying they had
played a key role in the country's policies to support
terrorism and destabilize the Middle East.

The Treasury Department said it had blocked any U.S. assets
held by Baath party official Maj. Gen. Hisham Ikhtiyar "for
significantly contributing to the Syrian government's support
for designated terrorist organizations," including the
Hizbollah militia in Lebanon.

A Treasury statement said Ikhtiyar had also significantly
contributed to his country's military and security presence in
neighboring Lebanon from 2001 to 2005 as head of Syria's
General Intelligence Directorate, the country's central
civilian intelligence service.

The United States also froze any U.S. funds held by Brig.
Gen. Jama'a Jama'a, saying he had played a central part in
Syria's presence in Lebanon as commander of its military
intelligence headquarters in Beirut from 2002 until Syria's
withdrawal in April 2005.

The Treasury action also prohibits any American from
conducting financial transactions with the two men.

"For decades, Syria has promoted instability and violence
in the Middle East. Even after its withdrawal from Lebanon last
year, Syria continues to choose destabilization and support for
violence over peace in the region," said Pat O'Brien,
Treasury's assistant secretary for terrorist financing.

"Until Syria takes concrete steps to become a responsible
member of the international community, the United States will
make known rogue actors supporting the country's destabilizing
agenda," he said in a statement.

Ties between the United States and Syria have long been
tense, with Washington accusing the Arab state of sponsoring
terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction.

Most recently, the United States has accused Syria, along
with Iran, of supporting Hizbollah in its cross-border conflict
with Israel. A U.N. truce has largely stopped the fighting
since it came into force on Monday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad praised Lebanon's
Hizbollah guerrillas on Tuesday for resisting Israeli forces
during five weeks of war and said their actions would make the
Jewish state think twice before pursuing "terrorist policies"
in the region.

He also said peace in the Middle East would remain elusive
for the foreseeable future, and blamed the United States.