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US issues 271 sanctions over Bashar Assad's alleged chemical weapon use

The US has issued sanctions against 271 people linked to the Syrian agency responsible for producing non-conventional weapons as part of an ongoing crackdown on Syrian president Bashar Assad's alleged use of chemical weapons.

The sanctions target employees of Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Centre, which the US says partly enables the use of chemical weapons.

The US has blamed Mr Assad for an attack earlier this month that killed more than 80 civilians in rebel-held northern Idlib.

"The United States is sending a strong message with this action: That we will not tolerate the use of chemical weapons by any actor," Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin told reporters at the White House on Monday.

He said it was one of the largest such sanctions actions in US history.

President Donald Trump has called Mr Assad "evil" and said his use of chemical weapons "crossed a lot of lines".

Mr Assad has strongly denied he was behind the attack, in which sarin gas was allegedly used.

As a result of Monday's action, any property or interest in property of the individuals' sanctioned must be blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from dealing with them.

As Mr Trump dined this month with Chinese president Xi Jinping during their highly anticipated summit at Trump's Florida resort, word emerged that he took action against Mr Assad by launching missiles against a Syrian airfield.

The retaliation was seen as somewhat unexpected for a president that vowed to stay out of lingering wars and conflicts overseas.

This month, Russia vetoed a Western-backed UN resolution that would have condemned the reported use of chemical weapons in Syria and demanded a speedy investigation into the attack.

China abstained for the first time, a move the White House billed a win for their efforts to isolate Russia.

"On Syria, the Council failed again this month to respond to Syria's use of chemical weapons," Mr Trump said at a White House meeting of UN ambassadors from countries on the Security Council on Monday.

"A great disappointment. I was very disappointed by that."

The US has gradually been expanding its sanctions programme against Syria since 2004, when it issued sanctions targeting Syria for a range of offences, including its support of terrorism, as well as its occupation of Lebanon, efforts to undermine stability in Iraq and pursuit of weapons of mass destruction.

More recently, sanctions were expanded in connection with its civil war, now in its sixth year, to target offences linked to the ongoing violence and human rights abuses.

The US has also issued sanctions against foreign individuals or companies that support Mr Assad's government.

A number of Iranian entities have been penalised for supporting the Syrian government or fighters working to undermine peace in Syria.

While Moscow and Washington are continuously at odds over Syria, the US has not imposed any Syria-related sanctions on Russia.

AP

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