Wednesday 26 October 2016

UN says Assad used chemical weapons on his own population

Josie Ensor

Published 26/08/2016 | 02:30

President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP
President of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. Photo: AP

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government used chemical weapons in attacks on civilians, the United Nations has confirmed in a report.

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In its clearest apportioning of blame to date, the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has concluded after a year of investigation that the regime used chlorine gas on its own population.

The report identified two incidents in which the Assad regime unleashed the gas in Idlib province on April 21, 2014, and March 16, 2015.

At least three children died and hundreds were admitted to hospital with breathing problems and burns after the attacks.

While chlorine is not banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, its use as a weapon against civilians is.

In September 2013, Syria accepted a Russian proposal to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpile and join the convention.

That averted a US military strike in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta the previous month.

Assad allowed in OPCW inspectors and handed over what was declared to be the last of the toxic material in June 2014.

Since then the government has been accused of using chemical agents in dozens of attacks, most of which have not been independently investigated.

Ned Price, US National Security Council spokesman, said: "It is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people."

The United States will seek accountability at the UN and the OPCW and has placed "a high priority" on targeting the Isil militant group's chemical weapons capabilities, Mr Price said.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, France's foreign minister, called the use of such chemicals an "abomination" and urged the UN to respond.

The Security Council passed a resolution that pledged to evoke Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which authorises military force and sanctions, if chemical weapons were transferred to or used in Syria.

The Council is scheduled to discuss the report on August 30, but whether it will take any action remains to be seen.

Russia, one of Assad's chief allies in the war and a veto-holding member of the Council, will almost certainly block any proposal of sanctions.

The 'Daily Telegraph' newspaper, alongside Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a chemical weapons expert and former army officer, tested soil samples in 2014 from villages in Idlib province that suffered gas attacks. It tested positive for chlorine and ammonia.

The findings were sent to the UK's Foreign Office and shared with former prime minister David Cameron.

"At last we have the unequivocal evidence of these chemical attacks and at last the UN have felt they can attribute blame to Assad and Isil," Mr Bretton-Gordon said. "In this new determined spirit by the UN, I hope the UNSC will take demonstrative action when it discusses the findings on Tuesday.

"For starters, a helicopter no-fly-zone over civilian areas will stop chemical weapons and napalm use immediately, and will also stop the indiscriminate high explosive barrels bombs which have killed 100s of thousands of innocent civilians."

Assad's visit to the International Criminal Court and sanctions are secondary but important."(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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