Middle East

US imposes 'sweeping' Syria sanctions over 'chemical' attack

A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatment after what rescue workers described as a suspected chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib province, Syria (4 April 2017) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Victims in Khan Sheikhoun suffered symptoms consistent with reaction to a nerve agent

The US has imposed "sweeping" sanctions on officials in a Syrian government agency in response to a suspected chemical attack earlier this month.

The treasury department ordered a freeze on all assets in the US of 271 employees of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC).

The US believes it made the nerve agent that killed more than 80 people in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Syria says the incident was a fabrication.

President Bashar al-Assad has accused the West of making up events in Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April so the US had an excuse to carry out missile strikes on the government's Shayrat airbase, which took place a few days after the alleged attack.

Syria 'chemical attack': What we know

In a statement on Monday, the treasury department said the 271 employees had been responsible for developing and producing non-conventional weapons and the means to deliver them".

The sanctions mean that American citizens will be forbidden from having any dealings with them.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that "these sweeping sanctions target the scientific support centre for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad's horrific chemical weapons attack on innocent civilian men, women, and children.

"The United States is sending a strong message with this action that we will hold the entire Assad regime accountable for these blatant human rights violations in order to deter the spread of these types of barbaric chemical weapons."

Witnesses have said they saw warplanes attack Khan Sheikhoun - but Russia, a key ally of President Assad, says a rebel depot of chemical munitions was hit.

Footage showed victims - many of them children - convulsing and foaming at the mouth. Sufferers were taken to hospitals across the border in Turkey.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has said that allegations of a chemical attack were "credible" based on a preliminary examination of the evidence.

More than 300,000 people have lost their lives and millions of people have been displaced since a peaceful uprising against President Assad six years ago turned into a full-scale civil war.

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