WASHINGTON (AP) — President Bush, stepping up pressure on Syria, ordered new sanctions Wednesday to punish officials in Damascus for alleged efforts to undermine stability in Iraq and meddle in Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy.
Bush, in an executive order, said he was expanding penalties against senior government officials in Syria and their associates deemed to be responsible for — or to have benefited from — public corruption. The order did not specifically name any officials.
Bush signed the order a day after Imad Mughniyeh, one of the world's most wanted and elusive terrorists, was killed in a car bombing in Syria nearly 15 years after dropping from sight. The one-time Hezbollah security chief was the suspected mastermind of attacks that killed hundreds of Americans in Lebanon and of the brutal kidnappings of Westerners.
"The world is a better place without this man in it," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "One way or the other, he was brought to justice."
The White House said Wednesday's executive order built on one Bush issued in May 2004 that banned all U.S. exports to Syria except for food and medicine. His earlier action followed long-standing complaints that the Middle Eastern nation was supporting terrorism and undermining U.S. efforts in Iraq.
The 2004 order also banned flights to and from the United States; authorized the Treasury Department to freeze assets of Syrian nationals and entities involved in terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, occupation of Lebanon or terrorism in Iraq; and restricted banking relations between U.S. banks and the Syrian national bank.
The U.S. had complained that Syria was supporting militant groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah and failing to stop guerrillas from crossing the border into Iraq.
A White House statement on Wednesday said Syria was undermining efforts to stabilize Iraq and allowing Syrian territory to be used for that purpose.
Syria's government "continues to pursue other activities that deny the Syrian people the political freedoms and economic prosperity they deserve, and that undercut the peace and stability of the region," according to the statement.
"Syria continues to undermine Lebanon's sovereignty and democracy, imprison democracy advocates, curtail human rights and sponsor and harbor terrorists," it said. "The United States will continue to stand with the people of Syria and the region as they seek to exercise their rights peacefully and to build a brighter future." Lebanon is gripped by turmoil as Syrian-supported Hezbollah struggles for power with the U.S.-backed government.
Just last June, Bush signed a proclamation barring U.S. entry to people it says are undermining the stability of Lebanon and its government.
Syria held political and military sway in tiny neighboring Lebanon for some three decades. Besides armed troops on Beirut streets, Syrian intelligence forces were often a shadowy but pervasive force in Lebanese daily life.
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