The United States Congress yesterday overwhelmingly voted to slap sanctions on the Syrian regime of President Bashar Al-Assad, as well as their Iranian backers, receiving support from both sides of the House.
The swift passage of the sanctions bill displayed rare bipartisan consensus on the need to apply some kind of pressure on the Syrian regime, after several rounds of diplomacy by Secretary of State John Kerry failed to achieve anything and President Barack Obama failed to be taken seriously by his Syrian and Russian counterparts.
US lawmakers have accused the Assad regime of war crimes in light of the fact that almost half a million people have been killed since the Syrian civil war erupted after Al-Assad attempted to put down a pro-democracy revolution by force.
"What we have now is a grim lesson in human suffering," Republican Ed Royce said, adding "We can see the ethnic cleansing going on…Enough's enough."
The Congress' approved bill will target not only the Assad regime, but any of its backers, including most notably Iran and Russia, whom Kerry has already accused of war crimes due to its bombing campaign in Syria that has claimed civilian lives and destroyed hospitals.
Apart from economic sanctions, the bill would grant the State Department powers to assist in the collection of evidence for future war crimes trials against Syria and its backers.
"If you're acting as a lifeline to the Assad regime, you risk getting caught up in the net of our sanctions," Republican Congressman Eliot Engel said.
While Congress voted overwhelmingly in support of the sanctions bill, it still has to pass through the upper house, the Senate, before being passed onto the president for approval.
The bill has been named the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act after a Syrian military photographer defected and leaked images of thousands of victims of the Assad regime that he had been ordered to photograph and document.
Although the Republican-controlled House has now passed this legislation, the White House and State Department had previously argued to Congress that new sanctions could undermine the nuclear deal with Iran, which would then give it an excuse to renege on it according to The Washington Post.
If passed, the Caesar bill will potentially create a pivot on US policy towards the Syrian crisis, and will allow a new administration under soon-to-be President Donald Trump to enact some of his campaign promises of taking a hard-line against Iran.