September 23, 2018

Syria chemical ‘attack’: Russia rebel weapons claim rejected

b2Russia is objecting to a draft resolution on the chemical weapons deaths in northern Syria as the UN Security Council gathers in New York.
Russian suggestions that civilians were poisoned by rebel weapons on the ground have been widely rejected.
The UK’s foreign secretary, a rebel commander and a weapons expert all said the evidence pointed to an attack by Syrian government forces.
The issue is also overshadowing an aid conference on Syria in Brussels.
Seventy donor nations are discussing aid efforts in the war-ravaged country. The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Stephen O’Brien, said details of new pledges would be released later on Wednesday.
The UN Security Council is due to hold emergency talks later following the release of gas in Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province.
According to UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 20 children and 52 adults were killed.
What happened?
Footage from Khan Sheikhoun following the incident on Tuesday showed civilians, many of them children, choking and foaming at the mouth.
Witnesses say clinics treating the injured were then targeted by air strikes.
The World Health Organization said some of the victims had symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve agents.
It highlighted the “apparent lack of external injuries reported in cases showing a rapid onset of similar symptoms, including acute respiratory distress as the main cause of death”.
A team from medical charity MSF treating victims in Idlib found patients’ symptoms were “consistent with exposure to a neurotoxic agent such as sarin gas”, the charity said in a statement.
Sonia Khush, Syria director of the charity Save the Children, said victims had travelled far and wide to get treatment, making it difficult to estimate how many had been affected.
“I’ve heard anywhere from 58 to 100 deaths and up to 500 people being affected by the gas,” she told AFP news agency.
What do the Russians say?
Damascus denies its forces launched a chemical weapons attack.
Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, acknowledged that Syrian planes had attacked Khan Sheikhoun.
But it said the aircraft had struck a depot producing chemical weapons, for use by militants in Iraq.
“Yesterday [Tuesday], from 11:30am to 12:30pm local time, Syrian aviation made a strike on a large terrorist ammunition depot and a concentration of military hardware in the eastern outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun town,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konoshenkov said.
“On the territory of the depot there were workshops which produced chemical warfare munitions.”
Russia, which can veto any UN Security Council resolution, said later that a draft resolution proposed at the UN was “unacceptable”.
“We do not believe it is expedient to pass a resolution on the chemical weapons attack in its present form,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
The resolution “pre-empts the results of an investigation and just immediately designates the guilty”, she added.
What do others say to the Russian version?
“All the evidence points to the Assad regime,” UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in Brussels. He called for a “thorough and urgent international investigation”.
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel condemned the “barbarism” of using chemical weapons, and said Russia should do everything to clarify what had happened as soon as possible.
Hasan Haj Ali, commander of the Free Idlib Army rebel group, told Reuters news agency: “Everyone saw the plane while it was bombing with gas.”
Local journalists say there are no military positions in the town itself but an array of broadly aligned rebel groups controlling the area surrounding it.
Critics of the Russian statement say reports of the release of gas came hours before the times stated by Mr Konoshenkov.
Has Assad used chemical weapons before?
The Syrian government was accused by Western powers of firing rockets filled with Sarin at several rebel-held suburbs of the capital Damascus in August 2013, killing hundreds of people.
President Assad denied the charge, blaming rebel fighters, but he did subsequently agree to destroy Syria’s chemical arsenal.
Despite that, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has continued to document the use of toxic chemicals in attacks in Syria.
How bloody is Syria’s civil war?
More than 250,000 people have been killed and, after more than six years, no political solution to the fighting is in sight.
Nearly five million Syrians have fled the country and more than six million are internally displaced, the UN says.
“This is the most complex and the most violent conflict in our times,” EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said at the conference in Brussels.

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