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France freezes company assets over Syria chemical weapons

France imposed a six-month asset freeze on companies based in Syria, Lebanon and China after they were linked to an alleged chemical weapons programme in Syria.

The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus; Technolab in Lebanon; and a trading company in Guangzhou in China, according to a list published in the government’s official gazette.

Two Syrian nationals will also face asset freezes as well as a person born in Lebanon in 1977 whose nationality was not given.

The asset freezes were signed by French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire.

In a statement, Le Maire and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the individuals and businesses were working with the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC), which they described as Syria’s main laboratory producing chemical weapons and ballistic launchers.

In January, France sanctioned 25 people and companies based in Syria, and also French, Lebanese and Chinese citizens, over suspicions of fuelling the development of chemical weapons in the war-ravaged country.

The companies targeted included importers and distributors of metals, electronics, logistics and shipping.

Aziz Allouche, the owner of Technolab said that his company supplied only universities, schools and professional education centres with electronic and industrial gear such as spectrum analysis equipment.

“I’m surprised by this news, I don’t work with France,” Allouche said. “If they want to question me, they’re welcome to.” Technolab and Allouche are also among several companies and individuals whose assets have been frozen by US officials over suspected support for Syria’s SSRC.

“All my business involves the civil sector. But the equipment I provide can be used for either civil or military purposes,” Allouche said.

“If I supply a university and they use it for something else, how is that my fault?”

Some 30 countries meet in Paris on Friday to put in place mechanisms to better identify and punish those responsible for using nerve agents such as sarin and chlorine in attacks.

After hundreds of people were killed in chemical attacks near Damascus in August 2013, a landmark deal with Russia was struck to rid Syria of its chemical weapons stash, staving off US air strikes.

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