Syrian President Bashar Al Assad has sent tanks back to Hama’s Asi square on Wednesday night, hours after he pulled them out on grounds they had “accomplished their mission,” activists said. The United States, meanwhile, has imposed sanctions on Syria’s largest commercial bank and largest mobile phone operator, tightening the noose on the embattled president.
Deploying tanks again in Hama also came after President Assad, in a meeting with envoys from UN Security Council members Brazil, India and South Africa, admitted that “some mistakes” had been made by security forces.
The earlier withdrawal of troops from the flashpoint city came a day after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu delivered a stern message from Ankara to President Assad.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had sent to Hama his ambassador to witness the pullout.
“Our ambassador went to Hama and said that the tanks, security forces had started to leave Hama. This is highly important to show that our initiatives had positive results,” Mr. Erdogan said in Ankara.
Mr. Davutoglu said that envoy Omer Onhon toured the city and met residents and “he was together with people for the noon prayer.”
“The critical thing is that Syria should be open to the world for the developments to be followed. The most important tool to end the speculations and debate is free media access,” Mr. Davutoglu said.
An AFP correspondent, on a government-sponsored tour, said dozens of military vehicles crammed with soldiers streamed out of Hama where residents were trickling back.
“The army units have gone back to their barracks after having accomplished their mission, and residents, happy to be rid of the armed gangs who tried to sow discord among the population, have returned home,” a high-ranking army officer said.
Meanwhile, the US Department of the Treasury on Wednesday announced the designation of the Commercial Bank of Syria, a Syrian state-owned financial institution, and its Lebanon-based subsidiary, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13382, and Syriatel, the largest mobile phone operator in Syria, pursuant to E.O. 13572.
E.O. 13382 is an authority that targets proliferators of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and their supporters, and E.O. 13572 targets Syrian officials and others responsible for human rights abuses in Syria. As a result of today’s actions, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in commercial or financial transactions with the Commercial Bank of Syria, Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank and Syriatel, and any assets of these entities under US jurisdiction are frozen.
“By exposing Syria’s largest commercial bank as an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators, and by targeting Syria’s largest mobile phone operator for being controlled by one of the regime’s most corrupt insiders, we are taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to Asad and his regime’s illicit activities,” said Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen.