Posts Tagged ‘Khan Sheikhun’

Syria denies having chemical weapons after Macron threat

February 14, 2018

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DAMASCUS: The Syrian government on Wednesday denied it possessed chemical weapons and branded the use of such arms “immoral and unacceptable,” following a French warning of punitive strikes.
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As Damascus dismissed suspicions of chlorine attacks on rebel-held areas including besieged Eastern Ghouta, the first aid convoy since November entered the battered enclave near the capital.
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“Syria’s government categorically denies possessing… chemical weapons,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, quoted by state news agency SANA.
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“We consider the use of such arms as immoral and unacceptable, whatever the context.”
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On Tuesday, France’s President Emmanuel Macron warned his country would launch strikes if proof emerged that the Syrian regime had used banned chemical weapons against its civilians.
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According to Washington, at least six chlorine attacks have been reported since early January in rebel-held areas, resulting in dozens of injuries.
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Damascus last month also denied carrying out chemical attacks and its ally Moscow denounced such charges as a “propaganda campaign,” stressing the perpetrators had not been identified.
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France, like the United States, suspects the Syrian regime but says it does not yet have concrete evidence on the nature and origin of the attacks.
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Damascus has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons, despite a 2013 deal between the United States and Russia for Syria to destroy its stockpiles.
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The United Nations was among those who blamed government forces for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun that left scores dead.
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In retaliation for that alleged attack, the United States carried out cruise missile strikes on a Syrian regime air base.
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As Assad’s opponents ratcheted up pressure, there was some respite with the arrival of the first aid convoy in months in rebel Eastern Ghouta after intensive bombardments last week killed 250 civilians.
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“First UN and Syrian Red Crescent inter-agency convoy this year crossed conflict lines to Nashabieh in Eastern Ghouta to deliver food, health and nutrition supplies for 7,200 people in the besieged enclave,” the UN humanitarian affairs office said.
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Some 400,000 people live in the enclave outside Damascus where they have been under siege by the army since 2013, facing severe food and medicine shortages.
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The UN Security Council is considering a draft resolution demanding a 30-day cease-fire in Syria to allow for urgent deliveries of humanitarian aid.
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Sweden and Kuwait presented the draft, which would also demands an immediate end to sieges, including on Eastern Ghouta, after regime ally Russia last week rejected as “not realistic” a similar appeal by UN aid officials.
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The United Nations has said that violence in Syria has only worsened since it first called for a truce last week, with “some of the worst fighting of the entire conflict” being witnessed.
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President Bashar Assad’s forces have bludgeoned their way ahead with the help of Russian air power in the war that has claimed more than 340,000 lives since 2011.
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Beyond pounding Eastern Ghouta, the regime is conducting an offensive in the northwestern Idlib province, the only one that had remained completely out of its grip.
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Further to the north, Turkey is also carrying out a major operation in the Afrin region against Kurdish miltia that have received backing from the US.
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World powers step up pressure on Syria, Russia over chemical attacks

January 23, 2018

French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson attend a foreign ministers meeting on the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons, in Paris, France, January 23, 2018. (Reuters)
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PARIS: Two dozen countries agreed Tuesday to push for sanctions against perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria, with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson saying Russia “ultimately bears responsibility” for such strikes.
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Twenty-four nations approved a new “partnership against impunity” for the use of chemical weapons, just a day after reports that they were used in an attack that sickened 21 people in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.
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“Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria,” Tillerson said after the meeting, and ahead of further talks with several ministers on ending the conflict.
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“There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor” overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, as agreed in September 2013, he added.
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Despite its pledge to destroy such weapons, the Syrian regime has been repeatedly accused of staging chemical attacks, with the United Nations among those blaming it for an April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun which left scores dead.
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There have been at least 130 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012, according to French estimates, with the Daesh group also accused of using mustard gas in Syria and Iraq.
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Russia twice used its UN veto in November to veto an extension of an international expert inquiry into chemical attacks in Syria, to the consternation of Western powers.
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Moscow, backed by Iran and Turkey, has organized talks in the Russian city of Sochi next week aimed at finding a resolution to the brutal and multi-faceted civil war.
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Those efforts are running parallel to talks overseen by the UN, with the latest round due in Vienna on Thursday and Friday.
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The talks have so far failed to make progress in ending a war that has left more than 340,000 people dead.
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Tillerson said that “Russia’s failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution of the overall crisis.”
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“At a bare minimum, Russia must stop vetoeing, or at the very least abstain, from future Security Council votes on this issue,” he said.
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At Tuesday’s meeting, 24 out of 29 countries attending committed to sharing information and compiling a list of individuals implicated in the use of chemical weapons in Syria and beyond.
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These could then be hit with sanctions such as asset freezes and entry bans as well as criminal proceedings at the national level.
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Ahead of the meeting France announced asset freezes against 25 Syrian companies and executives, as well as French, Lebanese and Chinese businesses accused of aiding regime use of chemical weapons.
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“The criminals who take the responsibility for using and developing these barbaric weapons must know that they will not go unpunished,” said French foreign minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who chaired Tuesday’s meeting.
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Tillerson, Le Drian and several other ministers including Britain’s Boris Johnson were due to meet for further talks laying the groundwork for a new contact group on Syria that French President Emmanuel Macron has been urging for months.
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Macron wants the new contact group to bring together the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the US — along with regional countries to find a solution.
Johnson said he was also set to host his US, Saudi Arabian and UAE counterparts at the British Embassy to discuss the Yemen conflict in a whirlwind of Middle Eastern diplomacy.
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A meeting later Tuesday in Paris, attended by Tillerson as well as British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, is designed to “find pathways toward and the means for a true political transition with the support of major powers, essentially the P5 and countries in the region directly affected,” an aide to Le Drian said.
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“The conflicts in Syria and Yemen have created two of the worst humanitarian crises of our time,” he said.
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“There can be no military solution to either conflict, only peaceful and carefully negotiated political solutions will truly end the suffering.”
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The Syrian war has grown even more complex in recent days with Turkey launching a new ground operation against Kurdish militia who it considers an offshoot of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
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  (Contains links to several related articles on chemical weapons)

Russia attacks, intimidation campaign ‘biased’ chemical arms watchdog over Syria

November 28, 2017

AFP

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© AFP/File | The April 4 attack on the rebel-held Syrian village of Khan Sheikhun killed more than 80 people and triggered global outrage
THE HAGUE (AFP) – Russia launched a scathing attack Tuesday on the global chemical weapons watchdog, accusing it of bias in its probe into the Khan Sheikhun gas attack in Syria earlier this year.In a speech to the annual gathering of the members of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Moscow’s representative lashed what he called “unprofessional and politically-biased working methods” by the body’s inspectors.

This “probably came down from an order on high where some of the Western countries wanted their own version of the bombing in Khan Sheikhun with chemical weapons,” said Georgy Kalamanov, Russia’s deputy minister of trade and industry.

The April 4 attack on the opposition-held Syrian village triggered global outrage as images of dying children were shown worldwide. More than 80 people died, and the United States just days later launched missile strikes on a Syrian air base.

A joint OPCW and UN body, known as the joint mechanism or JIM, has found that it was the Syrian air force that dropped sarin gas on Khan Sheikhun.

But that finding has been fiercely contested by Damascus.

Russia has also rejected the investigation as flawed because the experts did not travel to Khan Sheikhun and said inspectors relied on witnesses that it says were linked to the opposition of President Bashar al-Assad.

It has called for the investigation to be put aside and for a new one to be carried out. Moscow has also twice used its power of veto at the UN Security Council to block the renewal of the JIM.

– ‘Double standard’ –

Syria was being hit by “unfounded accusations” of chemical weapons use even though for years it “has been combatting terrorism and extremism that has been sponsored from outside,” said Kalamanov, adding that was a “double standard” which is only “undermining the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the OPCW.”

The issue of Syria has dominated the annual talks in The Hague of the 192 countries which have ratified the arms treaty, which commits all member states to rid the world of chemical weapons.

Many delegates have bemoaned the lack of condemnation of Syria, which joined the convention in 2013 under Russia and US pressure, at the OPCW.

“Chemical weapons use by the Syrian Arab Republic remains the most serious violation of the CWC in the convention?s 20-year history and the greatest modern challenge to the global norm against chemical weapons use,” said top US official Andrea Hall.

France insists “we cannot accept that a member state to the OPCW has violated our convention by using chemical weapons and does not accept its responsibilities,” said French ambassador Philippe Lalliot.

The JIM, set up two years ago, has also concluded that Syrian regime forces were behind two chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015, while the so-called Islamic State jihadist group used mustard gas in 2015.

The debate at the OPCW headquarters comes as UN-backed talks on ending the six-year civil war in Syria resumed in Geneva.

© 2017 AFP

Syria Can’t Hide From Its Use of Chemical Weapons: World’s chemical weapons watchdog says — Assad regime admits to nothing

November 27, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhun triggered global outrage as images of suffering children, such as these receiveing treatment, were shown worldwide

THE HAGUE (AFP) – Syria came under pressure Monday to fill in gaps in its declaration to the world’s chemical weapons watchdog amid reports of toxic arms use during its six-year civil war, triggering angry Syrian denials.A fact-finding mission from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has issued three reports showing the use of chemicals weapons in the country in recent years, OPCW chief Ahmet Uzumcu said.

Image result for Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, photos

“It’s very disturbing that yet again we are confronted with the use of chemical weapons,” Uzumcu told the annual conference of countries belonging to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

It was “vital… that the long-held international norm against chemical weapons remains strong and the perpetrators are held accountable,” Uzumcu said.

The 1993 arms treaty binds all member states to help rid the world of chemical weapons.

Syria under President Bashar al-Assad finally joined in 2013, admitting under US-Russian pressure to having a toxic arms stockpile, and thus staving off threatened US air strikes.

Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad hit back at what he said were “false accusations” of the regime’s alleged involvement in attacks, saying the “politicised findings” of the OPCW fact-finding mission aimed to “smear the image of Syria” and destabilise his country.

– ‘No impunity’ –

He insisted that 100 percent of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile had been destroyed by the OPCW.

Countries had “sent their mercenaries from all over the world and encouraged them to use chemical weapons and toxic chemical against civilians and the Syrian army,” he claimed.

He insisted the fact-finding team should carry out a new investigation.

The debate in The Hague came on the eve of fresh talks in Geneva with the United Nations aiming to revitalise flagging efforts to end the six-year conflict in which more than 340,000 people have been killed.

A joint UN-OPCW body, the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), in its latest report blamed the Syrian air force for a sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun in April that left scores dead.

Speaking on behalf of the European Union, Estonia’s representative for non-proliferation, Jacek Bylica, said EU countries were “appalled by the recurring systematic use of chemical weapons in Syria by the Syrian government and by (the jihadist group) ISIL.”

“There can be no impunity and those responsible for such acts must be held accountable,” he said, calling on Damascus to work with the OPCW to complete an accurate picture of its chemical weapons stockpile.

The OPCW has declared that 100 percent of the Syrian regime’s stocks have been destroyed, but has increasingly voiced concerns that not everything was declared.

Russia blocks Syria gas attacks probe, again

November 18, 2017

AFP

© Timothy A. Clary, AFP file picture | The UN Security Council votes to extend investigations into who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria on October 24, 2017. Russia voted no

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-11-18

Russia cast a second veto in as many days at the United Nations Security Council on Friday to block the renewal of a probe to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

A draft resolution put forward by Japan would have extended the UN-led Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) for 30 days to allow time for negotiations on a wider compromise.

But Russia used its veto power to prevent adoption after 12 council members voted in favor of the measure, effectively ending the mission. China abstained, while Bolivia voted no.

It was the 11th time that Russia has used its veto power to stop council action targeting its ally Syria.

“Russia is wasting our time,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council after the vote. “Russia has no interest in finding ground with the rest of this council to save the JIM.”

“Russia will not agree to any mechanism that might shine a spotlight on the use of chemical weapons by its ally, the Syrian regime,” she said.

“It’s as simple and shameful as that.”

A resolution requires nine votes to be adopted at the council, but five countries — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — can block adoption with their veto power.

Japan put its proposal forward after Russia on Thursday vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have allowed the expert investigators to continue their work for a year.

A separate Russian draft resolution that called for changes to the JIM failed to garner enough support, with just four votes in favor.

“Any extension of the JIM’s mandate for us is possible only provided fundamental flaws in its work are rectified,” said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

Fictitious investigation

The Russian ambassador accused the JIM’s leadership of having “disgraced itself with its fictitious investigation” of the sarin gas attack at the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhun.

The panel “signed its name on baseless accusations against Syria,” he charged.

In a report last month, the JIM concluded that the Syrian air force had dropped the deadly nerve agent on Khan Sheikhun, leaving scores dead.

The April 4 attack triggered global outrage as images of dying children were shown worldwide, prompting the United States to launch missile strikes on a Syrian air base days later.

After the veto, the council met behind closed doors at Sweden’s request to hear another appeal for a temporary extension, but Russia again refused, diplomats said.

Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said council members must “make sure that we are absolutely convinced that we have exhausted every avenue, every effort before the mandate of the JIM expires tonight.”

Italian Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, who holds the presidency, told reporters after the meeting that the council “will continue to work in the coming hours and days constructively to find a common position.”

The final efforts turned to finding some technical ruse that would have allowed the JIM to avoid shutting down and would not require a resolution, diplomats said. 

UN officials confirmed late Friday that the panel would end its work at midnight (0500 GMT Saturday) as there was no decision from the council to keep it in place.

The row over the chemical weapons inquiry came as the United Nations was preparing a new round of peace talks to open on November 28 in Geneva to try to end the six-year war.

The joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel was set up by Russia and the United States in 2015 and unanimously endorsed by the council, which renewed its mandate last year.

Previous reports by the JIM have found that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that the Islamic State group used mustard gas in 2015.

Russia In Media Blitz to Save Bashar al-Assad, Discredit Any Reports of Chemical Weapons Use and Other “War Crimes”

November 2, 2017

Russia dismisses UN report on Syria sarin attack

© AFP/File / by Maria PANINA | This Syrian child was among the victims of a suspected sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4, which a UN report has blamed on the regime of Bashar al-Assad

MOSCOW (AFP) – Russia dismissed Thursday a report by a UN-led panel that blamed the Syrian regime for a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhun and said the use of the substance was part of a “theatrical performance” by rebels.

A panel including diplomats and military officers presented Moscow’s version of events complete with diagrams and satellite imagery, saying the Syrian regime did not carry the blame for the April attack which killed over 80 people.

“We believe that the report turned out to be superficial, unprofessional and amateurish,” said Mikhail Ulyanov, head of the foreign ministry’s security and disarmament department.

“The mission did their research from a distance, that in itself is a scandal.”

He said “the use of sarin has been confirmed” but insisted it was not delivered by an aerial bomb but rather used “as a theatrical performance, a provocation” by the rebels.

At least 87 people died on April 4 this year when sarin nerve agent projectiles were fired into Khan Sheikhun, a town in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria.

Images of dead and dying victims, including young children, in the aftermath of the attack provoked global outrage and a US cruise missile strike on a regime air base.

A joint panel by the United Nations and the world’s chemical watchdog Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that the Syrian regime was responsible, and that the air force had dropped a bomb on the town, releasing the deadly nerve agent.

Russia and Syria have however presented an alternative theory that an explosive device was set off on the ground. Ulyanov on Thursday suggested the sarin gas was poured inside the crater in the ground left by the bomb.

– ‘Baseless verdict’ –

Ulyanov spoke as part of a panel of foreign ministry, air force and other Russian officials presenting slides that showed elaborate diagrams of regime war planes’ trajectories and satellite images in an effort to cast doubt on the UN report.

The Russian officials also showed video footage of rescue personnel working in the crater wearing “only respirators and cotton gloves.”

Ulyanov claimed the video had been filmed after rebels detonated the bomb on the asphalt and before the sarin gas was poured into the crater.

“If it were an aerial bomb, the bomb’s tail would be in the crater, but there are no traces of an aerial bomb,” he said.

Ulyanov also said witnesses cited in the UN report were not confirmed to have been in the town on April 4 and “could have been sunning themselves on a beach in the United Arab Emirates.”

“The verdict against Damascus that has been issued so confidently turned out to be baseless,” he said. “You cannot issue a verdict against Damascus based on newspaper publications.”

Despite criticising the work of the UN-OPCW on the report, Ulyanov said Russia would on Thursday present a draft resolution extending its mission in Syria, following a veto on a similar US proposal in the Security Council last week.

Russia previously opposed renewing the mandate of the panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, prior to the release of the Khan Sheikhun report.

by Maria PANINA
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EU sanctions 16 more Syrians over chemical attacks

July 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley holds photos of victims as the UN Security Council meets in an emergency session in April about a suspected deadly chemical attack that killed civilians, including children, in Syria

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions against 16 more high-ranking military Syrian officials and scientists over chemical weapons attacks on civilians, a statement said.

The move by the bloc’s foreign ministers brings to 255 people now facing a travel ban and an assets freeze over President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on civilians during a five-year civil war.

“The EU added these 16 persons for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population,” an EU statement said.

The EU will release the names of those hit by the sanctions on Tuesday, it said.

The UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, last month concluded that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun that killed at least 87 people including children.

The sanctions decision “shows the resolve of the UK and the rest of our friends in Europe in dealing with those who are responsible for chemical weapons attacks,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters just before the decision was announced.

Syria is already subject to an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, as well as export restrictions.

It also is under sanctoins on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression as well as on equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.

Chemical weapons allegedly used 45 times in Syria: OPCW chief says

April 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | A child receives treatment following a suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in Syria’s the northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

THE HAGUE (AFP) – 

Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.

Director general Ahmet Uzumcu said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.

They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that was reported to have killed 88 people, including 31 children.

“All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations centre,” Uzumcu said.

The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.

The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has “already stated that they would support this mission, actually they have invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.

“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary ceasefire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.

“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”

However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.

The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.

Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed jihadist rebels from the so-called Islamic State group had used “sulphur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.

The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.

The OPCW has offered to help Iraqi forces investigate, but “they have not yet requested any assistance,” Uzumcu said.

Pentagon suspects chemical weapons still at Syrian air base

April 10, 2017

AFP

© SYRIAN TV/AFP/File | US intelligence experts assess Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military is probably hoarding the weapons in munitions depots at Shayrat airfield (pictured) near Homs in central Syria

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The Pentagon believes the Syrian regime likely has additional chemical weapons stocks at the airfield struck by US missiles last week, but these were deliberately left untouched, an official said Monday.

US intelligence experts assess Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s military is probably hoarding the weapons in munitions depots at Shayrat airfield near Homs in central Syria, the US military’s Central Command spokesman Colonel John Thomas said.

President Donald Trump ordered a massive military strike on the air base last week, in retaliation for a “barbaric” chemical attack he blamed on Assad.

“We suspected there was a significant probability there could be other chemical weapons which would be ready to go, weaponized in those facilities, and so we didn’t strike those,” Thomas told reporters.

The chemical stocks were left untouched because the Pentagon did not want to risk unintentionally sending a plume of toxic gas across parts of Syria.

Though the United States is confident Assad is stockpiling chemical weapons, intelligence analysts are not certain what these are.

Under a 2013 Moscow-brokered deal, Assad was supposed to have dismantled Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal and ship it to Russia.

The Pentagon has said it is sure Assad unleashed a chemical attack on April 4 that killed at least 87 civilians in the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun.

“Our advice was to make sure we didn’t inflict any greater damage by touching any of the chemical weapons in the area,” Thomas added.

“We were trying to degrade their capability to launch aircraft and to load them up with chemical weapons.”

The Pentagon says the strike destroyed more than 20 Syrian jets but the military has come under criticism for not targeting Shayrat’s runways, amid reports regime planes were again using the base hours after the attack by 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

Thomas said the runways were deliberately avoided because the United States was trying to draw a clear line that its military action was in response to the suspected chemical attack, and not signal a willingness to get more involved in Syria’s brutal civil war.

US forces gave Moscow a heads up shortly before Friday’s strike, as Russian personnel and equipment were based at Shayrat under Russia’s ongoing military intervention to prop up Assad.

Related:

US envoy to UN threatens further military action in Syria — “Moscow must reconsider its support for Assad.” — “Trump’s a human being and his instincts are just as flawed as anyone else’s.”

April 7, 2017

AFP

 
© HO, US Department of Defence, AFP | US President Donald Trump’s decision to order missile strikes on a Syrian regime airbase represents an about-turn on his Syria strategy.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-04-07

The United States on Friday threatened to take further military action in Syria following its missile strikes on an air base in the war-wracked country in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack.

“The United States took a very measured step last night,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council.

“We are prepared to do more, but we hope it will not be necessary.”

The Security Council was meeting in an emergency session to discuss the US actions in Syria that Russia branded a “flagrant violation of international law and an act of aggression” against Syria.

Haley said the air strikes destroyed an air field from which the United States believes the chemical attacks on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun were launched.

“We were fully justified in doing so,” she said.

Eighty-six people including at least 27 children died in Khan Sheikhun in an attack the United States has blamed on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

“The United States will no longer wait for Assad to use chemical weapons without any consequences,” Haley said. “Those days are over.”

‘WE WILL NOT STAND BY WHEN CHEMICAL WEAPONS ARE USED’

While threatening further strikes, the US envoy also said it was time to press on with a political solution to the six-year war.

“Now we must move to a new phase: a drive toward a political solution to this horrific conflict.”

Haley again took a swipe at Russia for failing to rein in its ally and said Moscow must reconsider its support for Assad.

“The world is waiting for the Russian government to act responsibly in Syria. The world is waiting for Russia to reconsider its misplaced alliance with Bashar al-Assad,” she said.

The United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles from warships in the Mediterranean at the Shayrat airfield, dealing heavy damage to the base.

The strike — Trump’s biggest military decision since taking office — marked a dramatic escalation in American involvement in Syria’s six-year civil war.

It followed days of outrage at images of dead children and victims suffering convulsions from the suspected sarin gas attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun.

(AFP)

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Trump’s visceral response prompts Syria strikes

© AFP/File / by Andrew BEATTY | “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line,” Trump said of Syria

PALM BEACH (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – Donald Trump’s missile barrage on Syria — the first major military gambit of his presidency — revealed a leader fueled by instinct and emotion, and one willing to shake up strategy in an instant.

Early Tuesday, horrifying details started trickling into the White House Situation Room — a secure suite in the bowels of the West Wing that serves as the presidency’s eyes and ears on the globe.

The initial picture was sketchy, but US military and intelligence came to believe that 5,750 miles (9,250 kilometers) away in Khan Sheikhun, Syria, a fixed-wing aircraft from Bashar al-Assad’s air force unleashed a deadly harvest of sarin nerve agent on villagers who oppose his regime.

At around 10:30 am Washington time, US intelligence officers took their news to Trump as part of his top-secret daily briefing.

At the same time, news agencies with reporters on the ground, like AFP, began showing the horrifying reality of those clinical facts: heart-wrenching images of convulsing toddlers, empty-eyed men and women, and panicked efforts to hose the deadly agent off those still alive.

According to White House officials, this most visually focused of presidents — a man whose life has been defined by the power of image and television — had an immediate and visceral response to the images, asking for more information and options.

“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” Trump said in a stunningly frank Rose Garden press conference the next day.

“When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line.”

– ‘I now have responsibility’ –

Before that moment, Trump had railed against his predecessors’ military adventurism in the Middle East, arguing it was time to move on from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and put “America first.”

Trump had variously argued that Assad’s brutal actions were not really America’s problem and that the Syrian dictator — and his Russian backers — could even be allies in fighting the Islamic State group.

This was a complete U-turn. Now Trump wanted a response.

“I now have responsibility, and I will have that responsibility and carry it very proudly,” he said.

Within 24 hours, a speed that shocked allies and even some inside the administration, military and national security officials had presented the president with multiple options.

At around 2:00 pm Thursday, Trump ordered the military to launch a barrage of 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat airfield from US Navy ships in the Mediterranean.

It was an overwhelming display of power, but less risky than flying sorties in an area covered by Russia’s S-400 missile defense system and less escalatory than striking Syrian military headquarters or civilian government targets.

From the relaxed atmosphere of Mar-a-Lago, there were no signs that Trump had ordered an attack that could mark his presidency and dramatically alter the geopolitical dynamic of the Middle East.

Trump, ever the CEO, was so comfortable with his decision that hours before the attack, he was cracking jokes with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who he was hosting at his Florida resort.

– Uncertain aftermath –

Top administration officials painted the decision as a display of presidential strength and resolve. The message? There was a new sheriff in town.

Under Trump, there would be none of the ignored red lines or months-long deliberations that characterized the administration of Barack Obama.

“It’s decisive, and I have no doubt that he wanted that contrast with President Obama’s indecisiveness on Syria,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told AFP.

University of Virginia Center for Politics Director Larry Sabato during an event promoting his book and new revelations on the Kennedy Assassination on Oct. 15, 2013 at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

“But part of it is also worrisome. This is a president who doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. We’ve all seen it.”

Amid a myriad of questions about long-term strategy and the legality of the strike, top administration officials have struggled to explain the rationale beyond Trump’s reaction.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and National Security Advisor HR McMaster painted the strike both as a specific response to a specific breach of chemical weapons norms and as a warning to the world at large that Trump and America should not be messed with.

By dawn on Friday, capitals from London to Tokyo, from Tehran to Pyongyang were trying to figure out whether the strike was one-and-done or the opening salvo of a new Trump doctrine — with most leaning toward the former.

Even White House officials privately admitted that while Trump means business and the Syria strike may be repeated, it is not obviously transferable to other crises.

Striking North Korea, one official admitted on condition of anonymity, would be a much more fraught piece of business.

The US is now girding for an asymmetrical response from Assad or his backers in Tehran via Hezbollah militiamen, but the White House admits an attack on Pyongyang would almost certainly prompt a much more serious direct response targeting allies in South Korea or Japan.

What is clear from the strike is that Trump trusts and acts on his own instincts.

“I’m a very instinctual person, but my instinct turns out to be right,” he recently remarked.

Sabato however said “there’s just one problem” with that approach.

“He’s a human being and his instincts are just as flawed as anyone else’s,” he said.

by Andrew BEATTY