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U.S. hits Syria with toughest sanctions yet

The United States imposed its toughest sanctions ever on Syria on Wednesday (June 17), aiming to choke off revenue for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government in an effort to force the country back to UN-led negotiations and broker a deal to end the country's nearly decade-long war.

The scaling up of sanctions includes new travel restrictions and financial sanctions striking Assad's inner circle, including his wife Asma.

The new sanctions can also freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality, and target those dealing with entities from Russia and Iran -- Assad's main backers.

However, Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for the widespread hardship among ordinary residents.

The tough measures come as Assad grapples with his country's deepening economic crisis, and a rare outbreak of protests in government-held areas.

Syria's currency collapse has led to soaring prices, with ordinary people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.

But some residents in the country's capital, Damascus, were not too worried.

"We will not be affected, if the government and people work together, and we won't be affected if we don't steal from each other. But if people start robbing each other then we will be affected. We have not been affected since the beginning of the war, we were not affected by the bombardment and blood in the streets."

On Wednesday U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the new measures would quote "hold the Assad regime and its foreign enablers accountable for their brutal acts against the Syrian people" and warned of further sanctions to come.

Washington said this is the first taste of a deeper and broader pressure campaign against Assad and his wife, who Pompeo described as quote "one of Syria's most notorious war profiteers."

Syrians protest Arab vote

Tens of thousands of Syrian government supporters poured into the streets Sunday to protest an Arab League vote to suspend the country's membership, as Turkey sent planes to evacuate diplomatic staff and their families after a night of attacks on embassies. The death toll in the Syrian uprising has soared to at least 3,500 people, the United Nations said.