France imposes Syria sanctions ahead of chemical weapons conference
France on Tuesday announced it was slapping sanctions on 25 people and companies accused of links to the use of chemical weapons in Syria, ahead of a conference in Paris on the question attended by diplomats from 29 countries, including US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.
The French move will freeze the assets of individuals and firms involved in electronics, metals, logistics or shipping.
Most of them are based in Beirut, Damascus and Paris but one is a Chinese national from the export hub of Guangdong.
Although France, the US and UN investigators accuse President Bashar al-Assad's regime of repeatedly using chemical weapons, no members of the Syrian government are on the list.
"We don't have enough information to enable us to take this up to the political level in Syria," a French foreign ministry aide explained.
Chemical weapons attcks continue
After an attack that killed hundreds near Damascus in August 2013, a deal was struck with Russia to rid Syria of chemical weapons in return for the US holding off from air strikes.
But attacks are reported to be continuing.
On Monday rights monitors said that 21 people, including children, suffered breathing difficulties after an alleged chemical attack on a rebel enclave outside Damascus.
France estimates that there were 130 chemical attacks between 2012 and 2017.
President Emmanuel Macron has said that their use is a "red line" that would lead France, which is part of the US-led coalition launching air strikes against jihadists in Syria, to respond.
Russia and China have blocked UN sanctions against the Syrian government.
The Islamic State (IS) armed group is also believed to have used mustard gas during the conflict.
Tillerson, Le Drian head Paris conference
The Paris conference opened at 2.00pm, following a meeting between Tillerson and French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
It comes ahead of Thursday's resumption of UN-sponsored peace talks in Vienna and a Russian-organised Peace Congress in Sochi on 30 January.
The countries represented are expected to agree to share information on the subject and compile lists of people involved in the use of chemical weapons.
After the conference, Le Drian and Tillerson are to meet a small number of ministers from Middle Eastern countries.
Macron has repeatedly called for a contact group that would be made up of the five UN Security Council members and representatives of the region.
The US announced on 17 January that it would keep a troop presence in Syria until IS is definitively defeated but also to counter Iranian influence and drive out Assad.
Turkey on Tuesday continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in Afrin, northern Syria.
The area's atonomous adminstration called on civilians to take up arms to resist the incursion.
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