Wednesday 13 December 2017

Syria claims rebel chemical proof

Smoke rises as a mortar shell hits a rebel position in the Idlib Provence countryside of Syria (AP)
Smoke rises as a mortar shell hits a rebel position in the Idlib Provence countryside of Syria (AP)

Russia says Syria has given it evidence claiming that rebel fighters carried out the chemical weapons attack that sparked the current crisis.

A Russian diplomat visiting Damascus said president Bashar Assad's regieme turned over material on the attack last month. The August 21 attack precipitated the high tension over Syria's chemical weapons and sparked a plan under which Syria is to abandon the weapons. UN. investigators confirmed chemical weapons were used but did not say by which side in the civil war.

Russian deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Syria told Russian officials the material "bears witness to the rebels participating in the chemical attack" but that Russia is not yet drawing any conclusions.

The UN report did provide trajectory data that suggested the chemical-loaded rockets that hit two Damascus suburbs were fired from the north west suggesting they came from nearby mountains where the Syrian military is known to have bases.

Human Rights Watch also said that the presumed flight path of the rockets led back to a Republican Guard base in the same area.

Mr Ryabkov said Syria told him the material it handed over shows "rebels participating in the chemical attack". He added that Russia has submitted to the UN Security Council abundant and credible evidence that suggests it was not the government that fired the chemical weapons.

"We are unhappy about this report, we think that the report was distorted, it was one-sided, the basis of information upon which it was built is insufficient," he said, referring to the UN report.

Russia has been Syria's main ally since the start of the conflict in March 2011, blocking proposed UN resolutions that would impose sanctions on Assad's regime and opposing an attempt to authorise the use of force if Syria does not abide by the agreement to get rid of its chemical weapons.

Assigning responsibility for last month's attack has become a heated international diplomatic issue. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his French counterpart Laurent Fabius sharply differed on the topic after meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. Mr Lavrov said Moscow has reason to believe the attack was a provocation staged by the rebels, while Mr Fabius said the evidence clearly implicates the government side.

In London, Nato Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen welcomed the recent American-Russian agreement on eliminating chemical weapons in Syria, saying he thinks the "credible threat" of military action was the real reason "why diplomacy got a chance."

Press Association

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