New French Sanctions Target Suspected Syrian Arms Makers

PARIS (AP) — France’s government is imposing new sanctions on people and companies suspected of helping Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The Finance Ministry and Foreign Ministry announced Friday a freeze on assets of three individuals and nine companies involved in research or purchasing for the Syrian Scientific Research Center. The Syrian lab is accused of producing chemical weapons for President Bashar Assad’s government.

France says companies from multiple countries have been furnishing materials for the manufacture of chemical weapons, including sarin gas.

France is hosting leading diplomats Friday from 32 countries for a meeting of a new body aimed at better identifying and punishing those who use chemical weapons.

France, the U.S. and Britain bombed Syrian government sites last month in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack.

Assad’s forces have denied accusations they repeatedly used chemical weapons in Syria’s 7-year-old civil war. Rebels also have been accused of using poison gas.

In the latest report of poison gas being unleashed, the international chemical weapons watchdog said Wednesday that chlorine was likely used as a weapon in the rebel-held northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in early February. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons released details of a report into the chlorine use, but did not say which side in the fighting used it. The OPCW is not mandated to apportion blame for the attack.

The group meeting in Paris on Friday plans to publish information about chemical attacks to name and shame perpetrators and eventually sanction them.

In Syria, explosions shook an air base near the central city of Hama but it was not immediately clear what caused them, according to state media and a war monitor.

Syrian state TV reported explosions near the air base and later said another explosion was heard inside the air base.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the air base is where government warplanes take off to carry out airstrikes on central and northern Syria. It said the explosion occurred inside the base adding that it was not clear if the explosion was the result of a blast inside an arms depot.

In late April, a missile attack on government outposts in northern Syria killed more than a dozen pro-government fighters, many of them Iranians.

The strikes came amid soaring tensions between regional archenemies Israel and Iran.

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