Russia rejects UN findings on Syria chlorine attacks probe

720

UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 31 (APP): Russia has questioned the findings of a UN led investigation that concluded the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians, saying further investigation was needed.

Last week the UN Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) published an inquiry dealing with nine attacks in seven areas of Syria. Eight of the cases involved the use of chlorine.

The inquiry was unable to reach a conclusion in six cases but attributed at least two attacks to government forces.

The report said that there was sufficient data to conclude that Syrian Arab Air Force helicopters dropped chemical weapons on Talmenes on April 21, 2014, and Sarmin on March 16, 2015.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, whose country is a close ally of Syria, told the UN Security Council a number of questions still had to be clarified.

Britain and France, which back the rebellion against the President Bashat al Assad, called for sanctions to be imposed on Syria.

A September 2013 resolution states that the Security Council will impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, which permits military action, in the event of “any use of chemical weapons by anyone” in Syria.

The resolution, which endorsed the destruction of Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons, was adopted a month after hundreds of people were killed when shells filled with the nerve agent sarin were fired at rebel held suburbs of Damascus.

Western powers said only government forces could have carried out the attack, but Mr Assad and Russia blamed rebels.

In August 2015, following further deadly chemical attacks on rebel held areas, the Security Council established a Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to identify those responsible.

The international team of inspectors looked into nine cases in seven towns and determined that the Syrian air force was behind two attacks involving chlorine in Talmanes on 21 April 2014 and Sarmin on 16 March 2015 and that jihadist militants from Islamic State (IS) carried out one attack involving sulphur mustard.

Chlorine is a “dual use chemical”. It has many legitimate industrial functions, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). If high concentrations of the chemical enter the lungs it can cause death.

At a meeting of the Security Council on Tuesday, US Ambassador Samantha Power called the JIM report a “landmark” and called for swift action.

“It is the first official independent confirmation of what many of us… have presented substantial evidence of for a long time, and that is a pattern of chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime,” she said.

But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin insisted it was too early to discuss sanctions.

“Clearly there is a smoking gun. We know that chlorine most likely has been used that was already the finding of the fact finding mission before but there are no fingerprints on the gun,” he said.

Syria’s Ambassador Bashar Jaafari dismissed the report’s conclusions, saying they were “totally based on statements made by witnesses presented by the terrorist armed groups” and “lack any physical evidence”.