Syria toxic gas inquiry to end after Russia again blocks UN renewal

Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vasily Nebenzya votes against a bid to renew an international inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, during a meeting of the U.N. Security Council at the United Nations headquarters in New York, U.S., on Friday. (REUTERS)
Updated 18 November 2017
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Syria toxic gas inquiry to end after Russia again blocks UN renewal

UNITED NATIONS: An international investigation into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria will end on Friday after Russia blocked for the third time in a month attempts at the United Nations to renew the inquiry, which Moscow has slammed as flawed.
In the past two years, the joint UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry has found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an April 4 attack and has also several times used chlorine as a weapon. It blamed Daesh militants for using mustard gas.
Russia vetoed on Friday a Japanese-drafted UN Security Council resolution to extend the inquiry for one month. It was an eleventh-hour bid to buy more time for negotiations after Russia blocked US-drafted resolutions on Thursday and Oct. 24 to renew the investigation, which the council created in 2015.
Syrian ally Russia has cast 11 vetoes on possible Security Council action on Syria since the country’s civil war began in 2011. The Japanese draft received 12 votes in favor on Friday, while China abstained and Bolivia joined Russia to vote no.
After Friday’s vote, the council moved to closed-door discussions at the request of Sweden’s UN Ambassador Olof Skoog to “ensure we are absolutely convinced we have exhausted every avenue, every effort” to try and renew the investigation.
After a brief discussion, Italian UN Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, council president for November, told reporters: “The council will continue to work in the coming hours and days, constructively, to find a common position.”
Russian UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council earlier on Friday that the inquiry could only be extended if “fundamental flaws in its work” were fixed. He said that for the past two year the investigators had “rubber-stamped baseless accusations against Syria.”
The council voted on a rival Russian-drafted resolution on Thursday to renew the inquiry, but it failed after only garnering four votes in favor.
A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the United States, France, Russia, Britain or China to be adopted.
“Russia is wasting our time,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council on Friday.
“Russia’s actions today and in recent weeks have been designed to delay, to distract and ultimately to defeat the effort to secure accountability for chemical weapons attacks in Syria,” Haley said.
While Russia agreed to the creation of the inquiry two years ago, it has consistently questioned its work and conclusions.
The April 4 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian air base. Haley warned on Thursday: “We will do it again if we must.”
Despite the public deadlock and war of words between the United States and Russia at the United Nations, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Thursday that President Donald Trump believed he could work with Russian President Vladimir Putin on issues like Syria.
Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the United States. 


Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help ‘stabilize’ Syria’s northeast

Updated 9 min 8 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia pledges $100m to help ‘stabilize’ Syria’s northeast

  • United States, which leads the anti-Daesh coalition, expressed its  thanks for the funds
  • The money will help ensure the militants cannot re-emerge as a threat

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has contributed $100 million to help reconstruct areas of north-eastern Syria formerly held by Daesh.

The Kingdom said the contribution would go toward a campaign by the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS to “stabilize” the former Daesh bastion and help ensure the militants cannot re-emerge as a threat.

The United States, which leads the coalition, expressed its  thanks and appreciation to Riyadh.

“This significant contribution is critical to stabilization and early recovery efforts,” a State Department spokeswoman said. “Saudi Arabia has been a leading partner in the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS from the outset.”

The funds are the biggest single financial  contribution yet for reconstruction efforts in areas formerly controlled by the extremists.

The money would “save lives, help facilitate the return of displaced Syrians, and help ensure that Daesh cannot reemerge to threaten Syria, its neighbors, or plan attacks against the international community,” the Saudi Embassy in Washington said.

The contribution aims to support “stabilization projects” and “will play a critical role in the coalition’s efforts to revitalize communities, such as Raqqa, that have been devastated by Daesh terrorists.”

The statement said the money showed Saudi Arabia’s continued commitment to serve as a stabilizing force in the region.

The funds, part of a pledge made by Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir last month, will go towards projects to restore essential services in the areas of health, agriculture, electricity, water, education, and transportation.

The United Nations has said reconstruction in Syria would cost at least $250 billion. The Daesh takeover of large areas of territory in Syria and Iraq in 2014 led to huge levels of destruction. 

A conference on the reconstruction of Iraq held in Kuwait in February raised $30 billion in funding commitment. Saudi Arabia said at the event it would contribute $1.5 billion in financial and reconstruction support. 

Saudi Arabia also hosted the founding conference for the coalition in Jeddah in September 2014, and soon after flew the first air missions to bomb Daesh targets in Syria.