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Syria: EU lifts sanctions on airline accused of smuggling migrants

EU spokesperson could not say why Cham Wings, previously blacklisted by the US for transporting armed groups for Assad in Syrian war, had its ban lifted
A Cham Wings Airlines Airbus A320-211 at Syria's Aleppo airport on 15 June 2022 (AFP)

The European Union has lifted sanctions on a major Syrian airline that had been accused of smuggling migrants to the borders of Europe.

The sanctions were originally imposed on Cham Wings Airlines in December, after it was accused by the EU of flying people to Belarus so they could cross the bloc's external borders.

According to a statement shared by an EU spokesman in Beirut, the EU decision to remove Cham Wings from the sanctions list was signed on 18 July by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

An EU spokesperson could not tell Reuters why the ban had been lifted.

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Cham Wings had been previously blacklisted by the US after it accused the airline of transporting weapons and armed groups on behalf of the Syrian government during Syria's civil war.

In 2016, the US Treasury accused the airline of cooperating "with Government of Syria officials to transport militants to Syria to fight on behalf of the Syrian regime and [assisted] the previously designated Syrian Military Intelligence (SMI) in moving weapons and equipment for the Syrian regime".

The Treasury said the airline had acted on behalf of the Quds force, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps' overseas unit that has played a major role in propping up Assad in the Syrian civil war.

"Cham Wings’s Damascus-to-Dubai flight was one of the main routes SMI used to launder money throughout the region, with SMI paying all parties involved to ensure they would continue to do business with the Assad regime," the Treasury had said.

And in January last year, the United Nations confirmed to Middle East Eye it had used the US-sanctioned airline to transport aid to Libya on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and eastern commander Khalifa Haftar."

Though the airline is not sanctioned by the United Nations, a UN panel of experts identified that between 1 January and 10 March 2020, there were at least 33 Cham Wings flights from Damascus to Benghazi, likely carrying Syrian mercenaries in contravention of an international arms ban on Libya.

'Entirely innocent'

Osama Satea, business development and public relations director at Cham Wings, said in a statement that the lifting of the sanctions proved that the airline was "entirely innocent".

"This will allow us to request permission to operate in some airports," he said. "It'll be better and easier after our name was struck off the [sanctions] list."

He added that Cham Wings would not immediately begin to restart flights to Europe.

Based in Damascus, Cham Wings Airlines is majority-owned by Syrian businessman Issam Shammout, who has been accused of using a front company in Dubai to help facilitate the illegal sale of aircraft to the Iran-based Mahan Air.

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