The first batch of designations target 39 people or entities, including Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad personally as well as his wife Asma ⁠— the first time she has been targeted by US sanctions.

A picture taken on September 10, 2019 shows a US $100 note placed on a stack of Syrian pounds at a market in northeastern Syria city of Qamishli.
A picture taken on September 10, 2019 shows a US $100 note placed on a stack of Syrian pounds at a market in northeastern Syria city of Qamishli. (AFP)

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad's wife and dozens of others as it vowed a vast pressure campaign under a new law.

"We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

He called the sanctions "the beginning of what will be a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime revenue and support it uses to wage war and commit mass atrocities against the Syrian people."

Caesar Act

Pompeo was announcing the coming into force of the Caesar Act, which punishes any companies that work with Assad and has already shaken the fragile Syrian economy.

The first batch of designations targets 39 people or entities, including Assad personally as well as his wife Asma ⁠— the first time she has been targeted by US sanctions.

Under the law, any assets in the United States will be frozen.

Pompeo in his statement charged that Asma, with the support of her husband and family, "has become one of Syria's most notorious war profiteers."

READ MORE: Syria on brink of economic collapse amid looming US sanctions

French court jails Assad's uncle for graft

A Paris court on Wednesday convicted Assad's uncle of money laundering and misappropriating Syrian public funds and sentenced him to four years in prison.

Rifaat al Assad, 82, was hospitalised with internal bleeding in France in December and was not in the dock for the ruling.

The court also ordered the confiscation of Rifaat's vast real estate assets in France worth an estimated $100 million (90 million euros).

The younger brother of the late Syrian president Hafez al Assad – father of the incumbent president – was tried in Paris for crimes allegedly committed between 1984 and 2016, including aggravated tax fraud and misappropriation of Syrian funds.

Dubbed the "Butcher of Hama" for allegedly commanding troops who put down an uprising in central Syria in 1982, Rifaat has been under investigation in France since 2014.

The national finance prosecutor had sought a four-year prison sentence and a 10-million-euro fine, and called for the confiscation of all Assad's property.

Rifaat, who divides his time between France and Britain, denied the charges.

Syrian regime devaluates currency

Syria's central bank devalued the Syrian pound on Wednesday giving in to weeks of depreciation on the black market as new US sanctions took effect.

The central bank raised the official exchange rate from 704 to 1,256 Syrian pounds to the dollar, in a statement published on its social media pages.

The previous rate had been in force since March.

Earlier this month, the war-torn country's currency hit a record low on the black market of around 3,000 pounds to the dollar, sparking rare protests, before appreciating slightly after an apparent injection of dollars.

On Wednesday, the rate on the parallel market stood at around 2,600 to 2,800 pounds to the dollar.

Continuing decline

Zaki Mehchy, a senior consulting fellow at the London-based Chatham House think tank, said the central bank was trying to minimise the gap between the official and black-market rates.

"It is trying to encourage people to use the official channel instead of the black market," he said.

But the pound would probably continue its slide, punctuated by short periods of appreciation, he said.

Syria's economy has been battered by nine years of war, and is now reeling from the knock-on effects of a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon that has stemmed the flow of dollars into government-held areas.

Analysts have said the recent lows on the black market are likely due to worries ahead of the introduction of new US sanctions, and the sudden fall from grace of tycoon and cousin of the president, Rami Makhlouf, which has set other top businessmen on edge.

The Syrian regime has long blamed the country's economic crisis on international sanctions.

Last week, regime leader sacked his prime minister of four years after criticism of the government's handling of the crisis.

Before the conflict, the exchange rate stood at 47 Syrian pounds to the dollar.

READ MORE: Protests against Syria's decaying economy continue

Source: TRTWorld and agencies