NEW YORK, Feb 6, (Agencies): Kuwait’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN and current Security Council President Mansour Al-Otaibi said it was hoped that the issue of chemical weapons use in Syria would have been closed in 2013 after it was proven to have been the case. In a speech to the Council after the adoption of UNSC resolution 2118, he said Security Council members had the opportunity to illustrate its “solidarity and resolve” in ending the matter back then. This would have ensured that this crime “is not repeated and its perpetrators held accountable,” he said. Al-Otaibi said he regretted seeing a “huge retreat” on facing the issue due to a state of division amongst Security Council member states, who were unable to extend the joint investigative mission’s presence in Syria, which conducted its role in the “utmost professionalism, impartiality and objectivity.”
He went to express “extreme anxiety” on the ongoing claims of chemical weapons use in Syria, most recently yesterday in Idlib and Eastern Ghouta last week. He also condemned the use of heavy artillery against civilians and the targeting of healthcare facilities in Syria. Al-Otaibi also said he looked forward to the upcoming the fact finding mission’s report on the two recent attacks.
The United States and Russia clashed at the UN Security Council on Monday over a push by Washington to condemn reported chlorine gas attacks in Syria that have left many injured in recent days, including children. US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that there was “obvious evidence from dozens of victims” to corroborate the chlorine attacks in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta. “Now we have reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday,” Haley said.
The United States proposed that the council adopt a statement condemning “in the strongest terms” the reported Feb 1 chlorine attack in the town of Douma that injured more than 20 civilians including children, according to the draft seen by AFP. Russia hit back and accused the United States of waging a “propaganda campaign” aimed at falsely blaming President Bashar al-Assad for chemical attacks.
“It’s completely clear to us the goal is to basically accuse the Syrian government of chemical weapons use where no perpetrators have been identified,” said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia. Russia proposed an amended draft statement that made no mention of the attacks in Eastern Ghouta and stressed that the reports should be “credibly and professionally investigated,” according to the text seen by AFP. The United States rejected the changes and no statement was adopted, diplomats said.
Haley slammed Russia for balking at a statement that she described as a “simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas.” The US-drafted statement expressed grave concern over three reported chlorine attacks in Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks and asserted that those responsible for using chemical weapons must be held accountable. The Russian ambassador said that while Moscow was ready to condemn chemical weapons use, it could not support the draft statement “in its current form” because it pointed the finger of guilt to Damascus.
A “gravely alarmed” US State Department said it was the sixth such attack in the past 30 days in Syria. “By shielding the Syrian regime from accountability, Russia has not lived up to its commitments,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. “The use of chemical weapons by all parties in Syria must unequivocally stop. The people of Syria are suffering; the rest of the world is watching.” The council met to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria after Russia used its veto power twice in November to block the renewal of a UN investigative panel tasked with identifying those responsible for the deadly gas attacks. Last month, Russia put forward a draft resolution to establish a new investigation, but Western diplomats have raised questions about the impartiality of the proposed panel.
“This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the latest investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury,” Haley told the council. The previous probe, vetoed by Russia, had found that Syrian forces were responsible for the April 2016 sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, that killed scores of people. The panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), also found that Assad’s forces used chlorine in attacks on rebel-held villages in 2014 and 2015. It also found that Islamic State group (IS) jihadists had used mustard gas in 2015. United Nations war crimes investigators on Tuesday said they were investigating fresh reports that chemical weapons were being used in rebel-held zones in war-ravaged Syria. The UN Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria voiced alarm that it had received “multiple reports — which it is now investigating — that bombs allegedly containing weaponised chlorine have been used in the town of Saraqeb in Idlib and in Douma in Eastern Ghouta.”
Residents in Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, and in the northwestern Idlib province have accused Syrian troops of using the toxic weapons in recent weeks. The UN commission, headed by Brazilian diplomat Paulo Pinheiro, was last September the first UN body to officially blame Damascus for a chemical attack that killed more than 80 people in Khan Sheikhun in Idlib five months earlier. The UN has also determined that Syria’s government carried out chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015 — a charge Damascus has vehemently denied. More than 340,000 people have been killed in Syria’s conflict, which began in 2011 with anti-government protests but morphed into a brutal civil war, pulling in world powers and attracting jihadist fighters from around the globe. Fresh regime strikes on a besieged rebel-held enclave near Damascus killed 47 civilians on Tuesday despite mounting Western pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
The bloodshed came a day after another 31 civilians were killed in Eastern Ghouta and as the United Nations pleaded for a truce in the seven-yearold war to allow for aid deliveries. Eastern Ghouta and Idlib, a northern province where violence also flared this week, are both so-called de-escalation zones agreed last year in a bid to pave the way for an end to the conflict. A UN-mandated committee however said the recent escalation “made a mockery” of the deal, which has failed to take hold as the Syrian government continues its nationwide military reconquest.
The latest casualties in Ghouta came as Washington threatened military action over the reported use of chemical weapons in the enclave, which regime and allied forces have besieged since 2013. The death toll there rose from an initial report of 16 to 47 and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights warned it could climb further as bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage and many of the 197 wounded were in critical condition. All too familiar scenes of chaos engulfed the towns scattered across the semi-rural rebel-held area of Ghouta which lies just east of Damascus. Rescuers from the White Helmets, an award-winning organisation featured in an Oscar-nominated documentary this year, could be seen rushing shredded bodies covered in white dust to ambulances hurtling down streets littered with rubble.
Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman added that few rebels were among the dead because they rarely left their tunnels and had better protection from air strikes than civilians, estimated to number around 400,000 in Ghouta. He described Tuesday’s bloodshed as the deadliest since efforts to broker a truce in Ghouta failed and the government intensified its operations against the enclave six weeks ago. In apparent retaliation, rockets were fired on several Damascus neighbourhoods, killing three civilians, the state news agency SANA reported. Although less deadly, regime attacks involving suspected chlorinefilled munitions on Ghouta have also been on the up in recent weeks. France last month blacklisted companies and nationals it said had links to Syria’s alleged chemical programme.