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US slaps sanctions on Syria's largest commercial bank

The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on Syria's largest commercial bank and largest mobile phone operator, stepping up the pressure on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

The moves targeting the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria, its Lebanon-based subsidiary and telecoms company Syriatel are the latest taken by Washington against Syria over its crackdown on pro-democracy protests.

The US Treasury said it was "taking aim at the financial infrastructure that is helping provide support to Assad and his regime's illicit activities."

The move freezes the US assets of the businesses targeted and prohibits US entities from engaging in any business dealings with them, the Treasury said in a statement.

Treasury Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen charged that the state-owned Commercial Bank of Syria was "an agent for designated Syrian and North Korean proliferators."

Its subsidiary, the Syrian Lebanese Commercial Bank, was also targeted by the new sanctions.

He added that Syriatel had been singled out "for being controlled by one of the regime's most corrupt insiders."

The Treasury said the Damascus-based Commercial Bank of Syria, which has about 50 branches, was "providing financial services to Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center, as well as North Korea's Tanchon Commercial Bank."

Those two institutions have allegedly supported Syria and North Korea's efforts to spread weapons of mass destruction, the Treasury statement said.

On Tuesday, the US State Department pressed for more international sanctions against Syria, conceding it has abandoned a bid to engage Damascus. 

-AFP/NOW Lebanon

For live updates on the Syrian uprising, follow @NOW_Syria on Twitter or click here.