U.S. tightens sanctions on Iran in midst of coronavirus crisis

Donald Trump described the blast as an "attack"

The United States has stepped up its economic sanctions on Iran despite Tehran appealing for relief to cope with its devastating coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. Treasury Department announced on Wednesday that it had sanctioned five United Arab Emirates-based companies for purchasing Iranian petroleum. It also sanctioned nine entities based in South Africa, Hong Kong and China for “significant transactions” in petrochemical trade with Iran, as well as three Iranian individuals.

“The Iranian regime uses revenues from petroleum and petrochemical sales to fund its terrorist proxies like the [Quds Force] instead of the health and well-being of the Iranian people,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said in a statement.

“The Trump administration will continue to target and isolate those who support the Iranian regime and remains committed to facilitating humanitarian trade and assistance in support of the Iranian people.”

On Friday President Hassan Rouhani said “brutal” U.S. sanctions are depriving a great number of Iranians of health, jobs and sources of income during a message issued to the American people marking the first day of the Iranian New Year.

Officials from Russia and China, as well as medical organisations and rights groups have also urged the U.S. administration to lift sanctions, which have made it impossible for Iran to buy and import medicine at a time when the country is fighting an outbreak of coronavirus that has so far claimed more than 1,400 lives across Iran and infected more than 19,000 others.

Critics accuse Tehran of downplaying the figures and say that the number may actually be higher.

In late January, the United States and Switzerland announced the launch of a channel to ship food and medicine to Iran.

Washington says that it has exempted foodstuffs and medicine from its anti-Iran sanctions, something that Tehran rejects as a lie as the bans have deterred several foreign banks from doing any business with Tehran.

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