Posts Tagged ‘Khan Sheikhun’

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.

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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.

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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

Pressure mounts for UN action on Syria ‘chemical attack’

April 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Maya Gebeily | Syrian children receive treatment in the town of Maaret al-Noman, following a suspected chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhun, a nearby rebel-held town in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province, on April 4, 2017

BEIRUT (AFP) – 

Western powers pushed ahead Thursday with efforts to take action over the suspected chemical attack in Syria after US President Donald Trump warned the “affront to humanity” would not go unanswered.

France said it was determined to pursue a UN Security Council resolution to investigate dozens of civilian deaths in a northwestern Syria town, which Turkey blamed Thursday on a “chemical attack” by the Damascus government.

President Bashar al-Assad’s army has categorically denied that it used chemical weapons on Khan Sheikhun, and its ally Russia said “toxic substances” may have been released when Syrian troops struck a “terrorist warehouse”.

At least 86 people were killed early on Tuesday in the rebel-held town, and dozens more have received treatment for convulsions, breathing problems and foaming at the mouth.

An AFP correspondent in Khan Sheikhun on Wednesday said the town was reeling, with dead animals lying in the streets and residents still shell-shocked after watching their entire families die.

“Nineteen members of my family were killed,” 28-year-old Abdulhamid said in the town, surrounded by mourning relatives.

“We put some masks on but it didn’t do anything… People just started falling to the ground,” said Abdulhamid, who lost his twin children and wife in the attack.

Ankara said autopsies of three people transferred to Turkish hospitals confirmed that chemical weapons had been used.

– ‘Must not go unpunished’ –

“This scientific investigation also confirms that Assad used chemical weapons,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag told Turkish state media.

After an emergency session of the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Western diplomats are expected to push for a vote as early as Thursday on a resolution demanding an investigation of the suspected attack.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the resolution, presented by Britain, France and the United States, remained a priority.

“These crimes must not go unpunished,” Ayrault told CNEWS television.

“It’s difficult because up to now every time we have presented a resolution, there has been a veto by Russia and sometimes by China… but we must cooperate because we need to stop this massacre,” he added.

If confirmed as an attack, it would be among the worst incidents of chemical weapons use in Syria’s civil war, which has killed more than 320,000 people since it began in March 2011.

It has also prompted an about-face from Trump, who in 2013 urged then-president Barack Obama not to intervene against Assad after a major suspected chemical attack.

Senior US officials had also recently suggested it was no longer a priority that Assad be removed from power.

“I will tell you, it’s already happened, that my attitude towards Syria and Assad has changed very much,” Trump told reporters at a joint White House news conference with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

“It crossed a lot of lines for me,” he said, alluding to Obama’s failure to enforce his own 2013 “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Trump did not go into detail about what any US response would be, and he has previously opposed deeper US military involvement in Syria’s civil war.

As she held up pictures of lifeless children at the UN on Wednesday, US ambassador Nikki Haley warned of unilateral action if the UN failed “in its duty to act collectively.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is due in Moscow next week, told reporters there was “no doubt” that Assad’s government was responsible for the attack.

“And we think it is time for the Russians to really think carefully about their continuing support for the Assad regime.”

– ‘Gas so lethal’ –

The draft resolution backs a probe by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and demands Syria provide information on its operations.

British ambassador to the UN Matthew Rycroft told reporters he hoped council members would agree on a draft resolution by Thursday, but vowed to press for a vote regardless.

Failure to agree on a compromise text could prompt Russia to use its veto to block the draft resolution, which Moscow has done seven times to shield Syria.

Russia turned up at negotiations with a rival draft resolution that made no reference to specific demands that Damascus cooperate with an inquiry, diplomats said.

Syria officially relinquished its chemical arsenal and signed the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013 to avert military action after it was accused of an attack outside Damascus that killed hundreds.

But there have been repeated allegations of chemical weapons use since.

Doctors said victims showed symptoms consistent with the use of a nerve agent such as sarin — suspected to have been used by government forces in the 2013 attacks.

US officials have not said what kind of agent they think was used, but Trump said it was “a chemical gas that is so lethal, people were shocked to hear what gas it was.”

by Maya Gebeily
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Erdogan blames ‘murderer Assad’ for suspected Syria chemical attack

April 5, 2017

AFP

© AFP | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech in Ankara on April 5, 2017

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday blamed the Syrian government for a suspected chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of people including children, calling President Bashar al-Assad a “murderer”.

“Hey murderer Assad, how are you going to escape from their curse?” Erdogan said at a rally in the western city of Bursa, referring to the victims.

At least 72 people, among them 20 children, were killed in Tuesday’s attack in rebel-held Khan Sheikhun, and dozens more were left gasping for air, convulsing and foaming at the mouth, doctors said.

Erdogan, in his first public reaction to the incident, said that over 100 people, including children, “became martyrs due to chemical weapons”.

The World Health Organization said there was reason to suspect a chemical attack, with some victims displaying symptoms suggesting exposure to “a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents.”

The UN Security Council was meeting Wednesday to discuss a draft resolution presented by Britain, France and the United States that urges a swift investigation into the attack.

Erdogan, a vocal critic of Assad, also denounced the world’s “silence” on the killings.

“Hey, the world that remains silent, the United Nations that remains silent. How will you be brought to account for this?” Erdogan said.

Russia, Assad’s main ally, has said a Syrian air strike had hit a “terrorist warehouse”. Erdogan made no reference to the Russian claim.

Turkey said Wednesday that about 30 people were being treated in Turkish hospitals after the attack, adding that it had evidence the strike was caused by chemical weapons.

The wounded were brought from Idlib through Turkey’s Cilvegozu border gate for the treatment in the Reyhanli district of Turkey’s southern Hatay Province.

“We are doing our best but that’s not enough,” he said. “They are our kids, our brothers. I am sad as a father.”