Mattis says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons

U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis meets Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, not seen, at the presidential residence in Jerusalem, on Friday. (AP)
Updated 22 April 2017

Mattis says Syria dispersed warplanes, retains chemical weapons

TEL AVIV: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that Syria had dispersed its warplanes in recent days and that it retained chemical weapons, an issue he said would have to be taken up diplomatically.

The US launched dozens of missiles earlier this month against a Syrian air base in response to a chemical attack. It said the Syrian regime launched the attack from the Shayrat air base.

The Pentagon has said that the strike had damaged or destroyed about 20 percent of the Syrian military’s operational aircraft.

During a press conference alongside his Israeli counterpart, Mattis was asked whether the Syrian military had moved warplanes to a Russian base in Latakia.

“They have dispersed their aircraft, no doubt. They have dispersed their aircraft in recent days,” Mattis said.

Mattis also reiterated that the US believed Syria had retained some chemical weapons.

“The bottom line is, I can say authoritatively they have retained some (chemical weapons). It’s a violation of the UN Security Council resolutions, and it’s going to have to be taken up diplomatically, and they’d be ill-advised to try to use any again. We’ve made that very clear with our strike,” Mattis said.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, a global watchdog, said sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in the April 4 strike in Idlib, Syria.

Russia blocks access of UN inspectors to Douma: French Foreign Minister

Updated 28 min 46 sec ago

Russia blocks access of UN inspectors to Douma: French Foreign Minister

PARIS: France urged the Syrian regime and its ally Moscow on Friday to grant weapons inspectors immediate access to the site of an alleged chemical attack, accusing them of “obstruction” aimed at eroding the quality of the evidence.
Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), who arrived in Damascus last Saturday, needed “full, immediate and unhindered access” to the site in the town of Douma.
Their mission has been put on hold after a United Nations security assessment team were fired at, and officials at the OPCW have said that Russian and Syrian forces have likely removed key evidence.
“At this time the OPCW investigators still have no access to the chemical attack site in Douma. If Russia and Syria ultimately abide by their commitments, it will take (the investigators) at least two weeks,” Le Drian said in a statement.
“The OPCW mission has as its goal establishing whether a chemical attack indeed took place and identifying the nature of the chemical agent used. This obstruction will obviously harm the quality of the investigation,” he added.
“It seems likely that this attitude is intended to make proof and material evidence linked to the chemical attack disappear.”
France joined the United States and Britain in launching air strikes a week ago against the regime of President Bashar Assad, in retaliation against an alleged chemical attack in Douma which local medics said killed at least 40 people.
Le Drian said Russia was issuing “contradictory official statements on the chemical attack.”
“One day the attack didn’t take place, the next, it was carried out by armed groups,” he said.
“A day later, it’s a Western manipulation. There’s no concern for either coherence or truth when it comes to sowing doubt and confusion.”
He reiterated France’s assertion that it has conclusive evidence of a chemical attack in Douma on April 7 as well as proof that it was carried out by the regime.