Chemical weapons probe team to start in ‘weeks’

The building of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is pictured in The Hague, Netherlands, October 4, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 14 March 2019
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Chemical weapons probe team to start in ‘weeks’

  • Members of the OPCW agreed in June to allow the body to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks

THE HAGUE: A new chemical weapons investigation team with the power to assign blame for attacks such as those in Syria will start work in weeks, the head of the world’s toxic arms organization said.
Member countries of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons agreed in June to allow the body to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks, but the new powers are strongly opposed by Moscow and Damascus.
“The recruitment process of the members of the team is under way and is currently being finalized,” OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in a statement to The Hague-based body on Tuesday.
Arias said the so-called Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) “will become fully operational in the coming weeks.”
Western states immediately called for the team to start work on identifying the culprits behind a deadly attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April 2018.
The OPCW said in a report on March 2 that chlorine was likely used in the attack, which it said killed more than 40 people.
The report however did not apportion blame as it was not in the watchdog’s mandate at the time.
Syria and Russia rejected the report, saying the Douma incident — which sparked western airstrikes against the regime of President Bashar Assad — was faked.
Canada’s delegation to the watchdog tweeted that it “expects Douma case to be referred to OPCW Investigation/Identification Team. Those responsible must be held accountable.”
Britain said that it “look(s) forward to further investigation by IIT to identify those responsible.”
The West pushed through the new blaming powers after a string of chemical incidents in Syria, as well as a nerve agent attack on Russian former double agent Sergei Skripal in the British city of Salisbury in March 2018.
Russia tried last year to block the budget for the OPCW if it included funding for the investigations team.
China and Iran have also opposed the new powers.
OPCW chief Arias said the investigations team so far had 400,000 euros of funding but needed a further 1.13 million euros for the rest of 2019.
He added that the watchdog had discussed the investigations team with Syria during talks in February on destroying Damascus’s chemical weapons stocks, and would now “seek to secure the cooperation of the Syrian Government” for probes.


Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

Updated 45 min 34 sec ago
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Beirut praises ‘progress’ on maritime border dispute

  • Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • Lebanon insists that the area lies within its economic zone and refuses to give up a single part of it

BEIRUT: Lebanon has hinted that progress is being made in efforts to resolve its maritime border dispute with Israel following the return of a US mediator from talks with Israeli officials.

US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Satterfield returned to Lebanon following talks in Israel where he outlined Lebanese demands regarding the disputed area and the mechanism to reach a settlement.

The US mediator has signaled a new push to resolve the dispute after meetings with both Lebanese and Israeli officials.

Israel and Lebanon both claim ownership of an 860-square-kilometer area of the Mediterranean Sea. Lebanon hopes to begin offshore oil and gas production in the offshore Block 9 as it grapples with an economic crisis.

A source close to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who met with Satterfield on Monday after his return to Lebanon, told Arab News that “there is progress in the efforts, but the discussion is not yet over.” He did not provide further details.

Sources close to the Lebanese presidency confirmed that Lebanon is counting on the US to help solve the demarcation dispute and would like to accelerate the process to allow exploration for oil and gas to begin in the disputed area.

Companies that will handle the exploration require stability in the area before they start working, the sources said.

Previous efforts by Satterfield to end the dispute failed in 2012 and again last year after Lebanon rejected a proposal by US diplomat Frederick Hoff that offered 65 percent of the disputed area to Lebanon and 35 percent to Israel. Lebanon insisted that the area lies within its economic zone and refused to give up a single part of it.

Satterfield has acknowledged Lebanon’s ownership of around 500 sq km of the disputed 850 sq km area.

Lebanon renewed its commitment to a mechanism for setting the negotiations in motion, including the formation of a tripartite committee with representatives of Lebanon, Israel and the UN, in addition to the participation of the US mediator. Beirut also repeated its refusal to negotiate directly with Israel.

Two months ago, Lebanon launched a marine environmental survey in blocks 4 and 9 in Lebanese waters to allow a consortium of French, Italian and Russian companies to begin oil and gas exploration in the area.