World powers step up pressure over chemical attacks
Cii Radio| Ayesha Ismai| 25 January 2018| 07 Jumadul Ula 1439
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.
Twenty-four nations approved a new “partnership against impunity” for the use of chemical weapons, just a day after reports they were used in an attack that sickened 21 people in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, which Tillerson said was suspected to involve chlorine.
“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 international meeting in Paris, and ahead of further talks with ministers from several countries on ending the conflict.
“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.
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.
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.
Russia twice used its UN veto in November to block an extension of an international expert inquiry into chemical attacks in Syria, to the consternation of Western powers.
Russia’s UN ambassador Vassily Nebenzia Tuesday rejected Tillerson’s accusations and instead called for a “truly impartial” international investigation of the chemical attacks.
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 multifaceted civil war.
Those efforts are running parallel to talks overseen by the UN, with the latest round due in Vienna on Thursday and Friday.
The talks have so far failed to make progress in ending a war that has left more than 340,000 people dead.
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”.
“At a bare minimum, Russia must stop vetoing, or at the very least abstain, from future Security Council votes on this issue,” he said.
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.
These could then be hit with sanctions such as asset freezes and entry bans as well as criminal proceedings at the national level.
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.
“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.
“The current situation cannot continue.”
Tillerson, Le Drian and Britain’s Boris Johnson afterwards held a closed-door meeting on Syria with the Saudi and Jordanian foreign ministers.
They discussed how best to “provide backing and some concrete reinforcement for UN efforts to advance the political process in Geneva, constitutional reform and the preparation for the holding of elections”, ahead of a series of meetings on Syria, a senior US State Department official said, warning that “it’s going to take time”.
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).
Tillerson met with Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Paris on Tuesday, though he did not hold a press conference to discuss their talks.
Last week Tillerson had warned that the US would remain in Syria until the situation was stable enough to remove President Bashar Al-Assad from office.
Syrian chemical weapons attacks
Since the start of the conflict in Syria in 2011, the belligerents — in particular the regime of President Bashar Al-Assad — have been accused on numerous occasions of using chemical weapons.
Here is a summary.
The Syrian government acknowledges in July 2012 for the first time that it has chemical weapons and threatens to use them in the event of military operations by Western countries, but not against its own population.
The following month, US President Barack Obama says the use or even movement of such weapons would be a “red line” for his administration.
In August 2013 hundreds of people are killed in Damascus in chemical weapons strikes after Syrian troops launch an offensive in the area.
The opposition blames the regime, which denies involvement.
In late August a US intelligence report says with “high confidence” that Syria’s government carried out the attacks. It says 1,429 people were killed, including 426 children.
A UN report says later there is clear evidence sarin gas was used.
The following month the United States and regime-backer Russia reach a deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons by 2014, averting punitive US strikes.
Chlorine, mustard gas
In September 2014 the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) says chlorine was used as a weapon “systematically and repeatedly” on villages in the central province of Hama and northwestern Idlib province.
A joint UN-OPCW commission finds in 2016 that helicopters from regime-controlled air bases dropped chlorine barrel bombs on villages in Idlib in 2014 and 2015.
The commission accuses the Daesh group of using mustard gas in August 2015 in the rebel stronghold of Marea in northern Aleppo.
In October the commission says that the Syrian army carried out a chlorine attack in Idlib province in March 2015.
New sarin attack
Warplanes strike the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun in Idlib in April 2017 with a chemical agent. More than 80 were killed, according to the UN and Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor.
The OPCW later says sarin gas was used but does not assign blame.
UN war crimes investigators say later they have evidence that Syrian government forces were responsible, allegations rejected by Moscow.
In November 2017 Western governments say a presumed chemical attack which just preceded that in Khan Sheikhun “bears the hallmarks of the Syrian regime”.
In November 2017 Russia twice casts its veto at the UN Security Council to block the extension of the UN-led investigation to determine who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Damascus accused again
On Jan. 22, 2018 the Observatory says at least 21 people, including children, suffered breathing difficulties in a suspected Syrian regime chemical attack in a besieged rebel enclave near Damascus.
A similar attack had targeted the outskirts of the same city, Douma, in the opposition-held Eastern Ghouta region on January 13, according to the monitor, which says seven people suffered breathing problems.
Source – Saudi Gazette