Wednesday 13 December 2017

Russia tries to undermine Syria sarin gas claims

Syrian President Bashar al Assad Picture: SANA via AP
Syrian President Bashar al Assad Picture: SANA via AP

John Irish

The Russian military has questioned the conclusions of the international chemical weapons watchdog that victims of the April 4 suspected chemical attack in Syria were exposed to sarin or a similar toxin.

Defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov issued a statement yesterday questioning how the samples were collected and how the analysis could have been done so quickly.

His comments came as France promised proof 'within days' that the Syrian regime carried out the chemical attack which killed at least 90 people.

But Mr Konashenko said only by carrying out an objective investigation on the spot can the truth be established about what happened in the Khan Sheikhun area of Syria's southern Idlib province and who was responsible.

The US and many other nations have accused the Syrian government of responsibility.

Attack

Mr Assad has denied that he was behind the attack. Syria agreed to give up its chemical weapons arsenal in 2013.

Ahmet Uzumcu, director-general of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said on Wednesday that the results "from four OPCW-designated laboratories indicate exposure to sarin or a sarin-like substance".

The findings supported earlier testing by Turkish and British laboratories.

Israel's military yesterday said it believes Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces still possess several tonnes of chemical weapons.

A senior Israeli military officer told reporters that "a few tonnes of chemical weapons" remain in the hands of Assad's forces.

Some reports put the amount at up to three tonnes.

In a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States, Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel's Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper on April 6 that he was "100pc certain" that the attack was "directly ordered and planned by Assad".

He did not elaborate on how he reached that conclusion.

France yesterday said it will provide proof within days that president Bashar al-Assad's regime carried out the attack.

Foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said: "We will provide proof that the regime did indeed organise these strikes with chemical weapons."

He said he could not provide evidence now because analysis is still under way, but added: "In a few days I'll be able to provide proof."

French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon called on the United Nations to punish those behind the attack and said "whoever uses chemical weapons should be condemned".

Meanwhile, the UN's chief humanitarian adviser for Syria says aid agencies have been able to reach fewer besieged people with relief this year compared to the same period last year.

Speaking in Geneva, Jan Egeland said the front lines have shifted but civilian suffering has "remained the same" in 2017.

Of nearly five million Syrians living in besieged or hard-to-reach areas, agencies have only been able to reach 564,000 this year, according to Mr Egeland.

The Syrian government and rebels are allowing up to 30,000 people to leave areas besieged by their forces over the coming two months in a deal critics say amounts to demographic rearrangement.

The UN is not supervising that deal.

Mr Egeland said no Syrians should be forced out of their homes through starvation or siege.

Irish Independent

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