The foreign ministers of the European Union agreed Monday to impose sanctions on 16 people linked to the Syrian government who, according to them, are involved in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population in that country.
The EU Foreign Affairs Council said in a statement that eight of the people sanctioned are senior military officers, while the other eight are scientists connected to what it alleged is the proliferation of chemical weapons.
On March 4, the EU imposed restrictive measures on senior Syrian officials for the use of chemical weapons in the country. The sanctions issued by the organization now extend to 255 people who are prevented from traveling to EU territory and whose assets have been frozen, along with 67 companies linked to Syrian President Bashar Al Assad.
The EU is the biggest aid donor to the anti-government forces in Syria and has said it will not help rebuild Syria until a peace process involving a transition away from Assad's government is underway.
The April 4 attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in which 58 people were killed by what experts consider to be exposure to sarin, led to the U.S. launch of 59 tomahawk missiles on the al-Shariat air base in Homs on April 6, blaming the Syrian government for the chemical attack — claims which Syria's leader denies.
According to Assad, his government has asked for independent investigations into the chemical weapons allegations, which he says have been stalled by the U.S. government and its allies.
In an interview with teleSUR, Assad alleged that U.S. officials are lying about their claims regarding Syria having chemical weapons, saying that armed opposition groups and their sponsors are to blame and also recalled Secretary of State Colin Powell's infamous testimony at the United Nations in 2003 where he said that Iraq was in possession of weapons of mass destruction, only to be revealed as a lie years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The EU also maintains an oil embargo on Syria, freezing the assets of the Syrian Central Bank in the EU and imposing restrictions on the export of equipment and technology that can be used for what it calls internal repression or control of the internet or telephone communications.
Washington issued sanctions in April, placing restrictions on hundreds of employees and scientists at a Syrian government agency which it claimed developed chemical weapons.