House lawmakers renewed their effort to curb the violence in the Syrian civil war, passing legislation Wednesday that would put a crimp in Russian and Iranian efforts to support Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime.
"If you do business with Assad, the blood of the Syrian people is on your hands, and you're going to get caught up in these sanctions," New York Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and author of the bill, said on the House floor.
The sanctions package passed by voice vote, it's second time through the House chamber; the Senate did not vote on the bill during the last Congress. The legislation seeks to pressure the Assad regime by depriving it of outside support through sanctions imposed on anyone who works with critical Syrian entities such as the Central Bank and its aviation and energy industries.
"This bill is about creating economic leverage to push the parties to negotiate; creating the conditions for a negotiated peace," House Foreign Affairs Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., said Wednesday. "It is about finding a way forward – to be determined by the Syrian people – that does not allow Assad to exterminate his own people with impunity, does not guarantee ISIS a safe space from which to operate, and does not drive another 10 million people from their homes."
The legislation was forwarded to the Senate just days after the State Department declassified information on human rights abuses at a regime prison, including the apparent construction of a crematorium to dispose of prisoners' corpses. But the Trump team is testing the possibility of working within the Russian-led ceasefire talks, so the legislation — which would crack down on Russian entities supporting Assad — could complicate that effort if it passes the Senate.
"If you're supporting this murder — if you're enabling the Butcher in Damascus to continue waging that sort of violence against his own people — you're going to face consequences," Engel said. "We want to go after the actual hardware that keeps his war machine running: the planes and bombs that terrorize the Syrian people, and the spare parts and oil that keep everything running."