OPCW rues Russian blockade of Syrian chemical attacks probe

Syrians flee following a reported government airstrike in Hamouria, in the Eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (AFP/file)
Updated 25 November 2017
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OPCW rues Russian blockade of Syrian chemical attacks probe

THE HAGUE: The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said Friday that Russia’s veto of UN Security Council resolutions to extend the mandate of an investigation team that lays blame for chemical attacks in Syria “creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community.”
The mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, set up by the UN and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) expired earlier this month after the Syrian government’s staunch ally Russia blocked efforts to extend its mandate.
Russia has been highly critical of the JIM’s findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun last April 4 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.
The JIM also accused Daesh of using mustard gas in 2015 and again in September 2016 in Um Hosh in Aleppo.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu lamented the end of the JIM.
“It is unfortunate that the mandate of this mechanism is not extended and clearly that creates a gap which needs to be addressed by the international community,” he told The Associated Press.
Members of the OPCW’s Executive Council were scheduled to meet later Friday to debate their response to the report.
A draft decision put forward by the US, Colombia, Estonia and Saudi Arabia is expected to be discussed.
It calls for the council to demand that the Syrian government immediately stop using chemical weapons and to express “its strong conviction that those responsible for the use of chemical weapons must be held accountable,” according to a copy of the draft text seen by The Associated Press.
Executive Council decisions are generally adopted by consensus, but with the US and its allies at loggerheads with Russia and its supporters, it is likely to be put to a vote.
Russia and Iran also filed a draft decision for the council earlier this month calling for a “full scale, professional, and high quality investigation” in Khan Sheikhoun, including a site visit.
“There are serious differences of view on the issues that are being discussed because it’s somehow the extension of the conflict which is still underway in Syria,” Uzumcu said.
The OPCW has a fact-finding mission, which works to confirm allegations of chemical attacks in Syria, but does not apportion blame.
Uzumcu said that there are allegations of more than 80 different uses of chemicals as weapons over the last two years.
“The list is long,” he said.
Uzumcu said that mission will continue, including a visit to Damascus soon to look into Syrian government claims of attacks by fighters.


Daesh militants kill 7 US-backed fighters in Syria: commanders

Updated 26 March 2019
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Daesh militants kill 7 US-backed fighters in Syria: commanders

  • Manbij is a former Daesh stronghold that is now ruled by a military council affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces
  • Daesh has vowed to carry out revenge attacks against the SDF

BEIRUT: Daesh militants killed seven US-backed fighters in the northern Syrian city of Manbij, its military council said on Tuesday, days after the group’s “caliphate” was declared defeated.

Daesh has claimed the Manbij attack. Manbij is a former Daesh stronghold that is now ruled by a military council affiliated with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the US-backed Kurdish-led alliance which declared victory over Daesh in its last redoubt in eastern Syria on Saturday.
At around midnight (2200 GMT) on Monday, gunmen opened fire at fighters manning a checkpoint at the entrance to the city, killing seven, the council said.

“The caliphate’s soldiers attacked a checkpoint ... west of Manbij city last night,” said a statement published on the group’s social media channels.
Council spokesman Sherfan Darwish earlier said it could be a revenge attack by Daesh sleeper cells.
“After the victory over IS, we have entered the phase of sleeper cells,” Darwish said.
“These sleeper cells are being activated and carrying out attacks but we will foil their operations.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor of the war, said the attack was probably the work of Daesh, which would make it “the first attack of its kind” since the SDF declared the defeat of the caliphate last week.
Observatory head Rami Abdul Rahman said it was also the bloodiest attack in Manbij since January 16, when 19 people, including four US service personnel, were killed in a suicide bombing claimed by Daesh.
Daesh has vowed to carry out revenge attacks against the SDF for the six-month offensive which culminated in the militants’ defeat in the village of Baghouz, close to the Iraqi border, on Saturday.
The Observatory said hundreds of SDF members had been killed in attacks believed to have been carried out by Daesh sleeper cells since August.
Manbij is also a major point of contention between the Kurds, who lead the SDF, and neighboring Turkey, which is deeply opposed to their autonomous administration in northeastern and parts of northern Syria.
The city is one of the few areas west of the Euphrates that remains under Kurdish influence after Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies overran the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in March last year.
In December, Ankara threatened to launch a new offensive to dislodge the People’s Protection Units (YPG) — the Kurdish force that forms the backbone of the SDF — from the entire length of the border.
The YPG is considered a terrorist group by Ankara because of its links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the outlawed rebel group that has fought a deadly insurgency for self-rule in southeastern Turkey since 1984.