EU Imposes Sanctions Against Syrians for Recruiting Mercenaries to Libya

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On Thursday, the European Union imposed fresh sanctions against ten Syrian military personnel, over their involvement in recruiting mercenaries to Libya and Ukraine.

The names of the Syrians – along with two private security firms – were added to the existing EU sanctions list, and published in the 27-member bloc’s official journal.

The sanctions, which include asset freezes and visa bans, were imposed against leading businessman Issam Shammout, the owner of the Cham Wings airline. He is reputedly a close ally of Syrian President, Bashar Al-Assad.

The Al-Sayyad Company is also linked to Russia’s private military company, the Wagner Group and is accused of being “active in the recruitment of Syrian mercenaries to Libya and Ukraine.”

Those listed include Muhammad Al-Salti, the Commander-in-Chief of the Palestine Liberation Army, two commanders from the National Defence Forces militia, and a former Syrian military officer. As well as the Director and co-owner of Al-Sayyad Company for Guarding and Protection Services.

Notably, Russia’s Wagner Group has reportedly been using mercenaries from Libya and Syria, according to a transcript published by the US Defence Department in May 2022.

Neither the exact number of fighters, nor their location has been verified. The Russian government has denied any connection to the Wagner Group, which also operates in parts of Africa and Syria.

Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, said that Wagner forces are present in Libya and Mali on a “commercial basis.”

In an interview with Italian television Mediaset, Lavrov reiterated Moscow’s position that Wagner “has nothing to do with the Russian state.”

“My dear colleague Jean-Yves Le Drian, as well as (EU diplomacy chief) Josep Borrell, in September 2021, told me directly that Russia had nothing to do in Africa, neither by the state means nor by private means, because Africa is an area (of interest) of the EU and France,” Sergei Lavrov said.

“We also explained that in Libya, this private military company was invited by the authorities in Tobruk, where the Parliament is located. They are present there on a commercial basis,” the Russian diplomat said.

In June, the UN Panel of Experts on Libya submitted a report to the Security Council noting that the Turkish government has continued its practice of deploying Syrian fighters to Libya, according to Nordic Monitor.

The UN investigators found that Alaa Al-Junaid, commander of the Hamza division of the Turkish-backed Syrian National Army (SNA), visited members of his forces at the Tekbali camp in Tripoli on 19 May 2021. The visit was publicized in a YouTube video.

The UN experts considered Turkey’s deployment of Syrian fighters, as an act that “threatens the peace, stability, and security of the country.” As well as obstructing or undermining the successful completion of its political transition.

Last year, Turkish Defense Minister, Hulusi Akar stated that the Turkish soldiers and Syrian fighters in Libya would remain to preserve Ankara’s interests