Posts Tagged ‘OPCW’

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

November 28, 2017



© 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/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.

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“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.

Russian blockade of Syrian chemical attacks probe prevents chemical weapons watchdog of UN from bringing international criminals to account

November 25, 2017
“Those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable…”


Syrians flee following a reported government airstrike in Hamouria, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (AFP/file)

THE HAGUE: The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said Friday that Russia’s veto of UN Security Council resolutions to extend the mandate of an investigation team that lays blame for chemical attacks in Syria “creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community.”

The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, set up by the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) expired earlier this month after the Syrian government’s staunch ally Russia blocked efforts to extend its mandate.

© 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

Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.

The JIM also accused Daesh of using mustard gas in 2015 and again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu lamented the end of the JIM.
“It is unfortunate that the mandate of this mechanism is not extended and clearly that creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community,” he told The Associated Press.
Members of the OPCW’s Executive Council were scheduled to meet later Friday to debate their response to the report.
A draft decision put forward by the US, Colombia, Estonia and Saudi Arabia is expected to be discussed.
It calls for the council to demand that the Syrian government immediately stop using chemical weapons and to express “its strong conviction that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,” according to a copy of the draft text seen by The Associated Press.
Executive Council decisions are generally adopted by consensus, but with the US and its allies at loggerheads with Russia and its supporters, it is likely to be put to a vote.
Russia and Iran also filed a draft decision for the council earlier this month calling for a “full scale, professional, and high quality investigation” in Khan Sheikhoun, including a site visit.
“There are serious differences of view on the issues that are being discussed because it’s somehow the extension of the conflict which is still underway in Syria,” Uzumcu said.
The OPCW has a fact-finding mission, which works to confirm allegations of chemical attacks in Syria, but does not apportion blame.
Uzumcu said that there are allegations of more than 80 different uses of chemicals as weapons over the last two years.
“The list is long,” he said.
Uzumcu said that mission will continue, including a visit to Damascus soon to look into Syrian government claims of attacks by fighters.
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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

Russia blocks Syria gas attacks probe, again

November 18, 2017


© 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


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

Chemical weapons watchdog found sarin used in March Syria attack

October 5, 2017


AMSTERDAM/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – An inquiry by the global chemical weapons watchdog found sarin was used in a March attack in Syria on an opposition-held town, just days before the banned nerve agent killed dozens in a separate attack nearby, sources told Reuters on Wednesday.

The March 30 air strike in the northern Syrian town of Latamneh injured around 70 people who suffered nausea, foaming at the mouth and muscle spasms.

“Samples analysis results show clear presence of sarin,” a source told Reuters of the findings by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The report by the OPCW Syria Fact Finding Mission is due to be finalised within weeks.

The Fact Finding Mission reported in June that sarin was used in an April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people and prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian air base.

 Image result for Khan Sheikhoun, sarin, photos
More than 80 people, including at least 30 children and 20 women, were killed in the chemical attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons during the country’s more than six-year civil war.

The OPCW Fact Finding Mission is only responsible for determining if chemical weapons were used in attacks in Syria. A joint United Nations and OPCW investigation, established by the U.N. Security Council in 2015, determines who is to blame.

This team – known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) – has already found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State militants used mustard gas.

It is due to report to the Security Council this month on who is to blame for the April 4 Khan Sheikhoun attack.

The 15-member Security Council is due to renew the mandate for the JIM by mid-November. However, Russia has publicly questioned the work of the inquiry and some diplomats said it was uncertain if Moscow would support extending the mandate.

“The Russians don’t like what the JIM has come up with so far, so they are muttering about not allowing a rollover,” said a council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia declined to comment on the future of the inquiry on Wednesday.

“Renewing the U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism now should be the Security Council’s top priority,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement on Wednesday.

“We owe it to the innocent people – including children – who have suffered and died at the hands of the Syrian regime to continue to push for full accountability for these horrific crimes,” she said.

U.N. war crimes investigators said in a report last month that Syrian forces had used chemical weapons more than two dozen times, including in a sarin attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April that killed more than 80 people.

Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by John Stonestreet and Lisa Shumaker

Syrian Government Has Used Chemical Weapons “More than two dozen times” — U.N. war crimes investigators said

September 6, 2017
French judge Catherine Marchi-Uhel (left) is head of the International, Impartial and Independent Mechanism on Syria crimes.
Syrian forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during the country’s civil war, including in the deadly attack that led to U.S. air strikes on government planes, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Syrian forces have used chemical weapons more than two dozen times during the country’s civil war, including in the deadly attack that led to U.S. air strikes on government planes, U.N. war crimes investigators said on Wednesday.

In the most conclusive findings to date from investigations into chemical weapons attacks during the conflict, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria said a government warplane dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in April, killing more than 80 civilians.

“Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. In the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children,” the report said, declaring it a war crime.

The attack was previously identified as containing sarin, an odorless nerve agent. But that conclusion, reached by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), did not say who carried it out.

In all, U.N. investigators said they had documented 33 chemical weapons attacks to date.

Twenty seven were by forces of the government of President Bashar al-Assad, including seven between March 1 to July 7. Perpetrators had not been identified yet in six early attacks, they said.

The Assad government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons. It said that its strikes in Khan Sheikhoun hit a weapons depot belonging to rebel forces, a claim dismissed by the U.N. investigators.

North Korea’s chemical weapons link to Syria — “In many ways the threat from chemical weapons is much more realistic than from nuclear weapons.”

August 25, 2017


© AFP/File | A rebel tries on a gas mask seized from a Syrian army factory in the northwestern province of Idlib.

Text by Sam BALL , at the United Nations in New York

Latest update : 2017-08-25

This week’s revelation of two North Korean shipments suspected to be chemical weapons and intercepted on their way to Syria may be just the latest sign of Pyongyang’s hand in the Syrian regime’s chemical arsenal.

According to a confidential United Nations report, first revealed by Reuters on Tuesday, the two shipments were intercepted at an unspecified time during the past six months. The report, presented to the UN Security Council by the UN’s ‘Panel of Experts‘ on North Korea, did not detail when or where the interdictions occurred or what the shipments contained.

However, it did reveal that the shipments were destined for a Syrian government entity known as the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, which has overseen the country’s chemical weapons programme since the 1970s.

Neither the North Korean nor the Syrian permanent missions to the United Nations responded to FRANCE 24’s request for comment on the report’s allegations.

Pyongyang’s chemical stockpile

North Korea has long been known to have a sizeable stockpile of chemical weapons, but recent developments suggest that its arsenal is becoming increasingly sophisticated, and deadly.

“North Korea is believed to have chemical weapons stockpiles of around 5,000 tonnes,” says Paul Walker, a former professional staff member of the Armed Services Committee in the US House of Representatives and now director of the environmental security and sustainability programme at the NGO Green Cross International.

Walker has not only taken part in on-site inspections of chemical weapons stockpiles, but also works closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and similar bodies as part of global efforts to eliminate chemical weapons arsenals.

“Five thousand tonnes is small compared to the declared stockpiles of the likes of the US and Russia, but significantly larger than most other countries, including Syria,” Walker told FRANCE 24.

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Much of that is made up of what Walker describes as “World War One-type weapons” such as mustard agent, phosgene and lewisite, known as “blistering agents” for the horrific chemical burns they can cause to the skin.

But it is also suspected to include significant quantities of nerve agents like soman and sarin, the latter of which the Syrian government has been accused of using at numerous points throughout the civil war, most destructively in an attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in 2013 that the US government estimates killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children.

‘100 times more deadly than sarin’

But the world got a glimpse at the growing sophistication of Pyongyang’s chemical weapons program earlier this year when, on February 13, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia, in a move widely believed to have been ordered by the North Korean government.

Kim Jong-nam was killed by the nerve agent VX, confirming for the first time that North Korea possesses this extremely lethal chemical in its arsenal – one that could now be making its way to Syria.

“My guess is that those shipments to Syria probably contained VX and precursor chemicals for making VX,” says Walker.

Dead bodies are seen after Iraq’s gas attack on the Iranian city of Sardasht in 1987 during the rule of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

If so, it would mean that a chemical weapon Walker describes as “100 times more deadly than sarin” could be finding its way into one of the most complex and bloody conflicts in living memory, in which close to half a million are estimated to have died and where chemical weapons attacks on combatants and civilians are already known to have taken place.

In fact, it may already be there.

When Syria declared its chemical stockpile to the OPCW in 2013, in the wake of the international outcry that followed the Ghouta attack and facing threats of US military intervention, no nerve agents were included on the list.

However, subsequent inspections found traces of both sarin and VX in samples taken from the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, the same body for which the recently intercepted shipments were earmarked.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if after further inspection, those chemicals are eventually linked back to North Korea,” says Walker.

‘Pattern of military cooperation’

If so, it would be just the latest in a long line of exposed military links between North Korea and Syria.

The incidents outlined in the UN report are not the first time ships containing North Korean arms have been intercepted en route to Syria, in direct contravention of UN sanctions.

“North Korea has also had some involvement in ballistic missiles and Syria is known to have produced ballistic missiles with North Korean technology in the past,” says Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“Then there’s the nuclear collaboration, which led to the Israeli airstrike (at a suspected nuclear reactor site) at Deir ez-Zor in Syria in 2007,” she told FRANCE 24. “Overall there’s a well established and lengthy pattern of military cooperation.”

That this cooperation may have already extended to supplying chemical weapons to Syria would therefore hardly come as a surprise, she says.

Bigger threat than nuclear?

Meanwhile, an international community currently fretting over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions amid increasingly bellicose rhetoric may be overlooking a more imminent threat in the form of an extensive chemical arsenal — one that in theory could be put to use at a moment’s notice.

Unlike most nations with a chemical weapons stockpile, the majority of those possessed by North Korea are thought to be “deployed”, meaning they are loaded into artillery shells and rockets ready to be fired, explains Walker. In North Korea’s case, most of these are amassed at the demilitarized zone along the border with South Korea.

“This makes for a very capable chemical weapons offensive threat that could be used to strike Seoul in half an hour if war breaks out.”

“It’s a source of big frustration that it doesn’t get more attention,” he says. “In many ways the threat from chemical weapons is much more realistic than from nuclear weapons.”


© Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/File / by Ali Choukeir | A handout picture provided by the Saudi Royal Palace on July 30, 2017 shows Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (R) receiving prominent Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr in Jeddah

EU sanctions 16 more Syrians over chemical attacks

July 17, 2017


© 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.

France Says Watchdog’s Report on Syria Proves Sarin Gas Used in April — Russia Says Chemical Watchdog’s Report “Biased”

June 30, 2017

PARIS — France said on Friday that a report by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog that nerve agent sarin was used in an April attack in Syria was “unequivocal” and that the organization’s members should act firmly on its findings.

“The conclusions of this report are indisputable,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

“The OPCW and its members must assume their responsibilities and condemn, in the strongest terms, this intolerable violation of the non-proliferation regime.”

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Bate Felix)


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Russia Says Chemical Watchdog’s Report on Syria Attack Is Biased: Agencies

MOSCOW — A report by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog that the banned nerve agent sarin was used in an attack in northern Syria in April is based on “doubtful evidence”, Russian news agencies quoted Russia’s Foreign Ministry as saying on Friday.

The report, seen by Reuters on Thursday, was circulated to members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, but was not made public.

The attack on April 4, when dozens of people were killed in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in northern Idlib province, was the most deadly in Syria’s civil war in more than three years. It prompted a U.S. missile strike against a Syrian air base which Washington said was used to launch the strike.

“Unfortunately, after a first reading of this document we are forced to note that its conclusions are based on extremely doubtful evidence,” TASS news agency quoted Russia’s Foreign Ministry as saying.

“The contents of the report compiled by a special commission of the OPCW, are largely biased, which makes us think that the activities of this structure serve a political order,” TASS quoted the ministry as saying.

Russia and its allies in the administration of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad deny that his forces deployed chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun.

Moscow has said the attack was carried out by Assad’s opponents, who, Russian officials alleged, made it look as though it was the work of government forces.

(Reporting by Jack Stubbs; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov and Christian Lowe)

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