New chemical weapons team starts work to find Syria culprits: OPCW

A Syrian boy receive treatment at a hospital in the regime controlled Aleppo. (File/AFP)
Updated 28 June 2019

New chemical weapons team starts work to find Syria culprits: OPCW

  • The team would be “identifying and reporting on all information potentially relevant to the origin of those chemical weapons”
  • The West has called for the new team to quickly start work on identifying the culprits behind a deadly attack in the Syrian town of Douma in April 2018

THE HAGUE: A new chemical weapons investigation team has started work on identifying the culprits behind alleged attacks in Syria, the head of the world’s toxic arms watchdog said.
Member states of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) agreed one year ago to give The Hague-based body new powers to assign blame for attacks.
Syria has already blocked access to the chief of the so-called Identification and Investigation Team, while Moscow and Damascus have accused the Hague-based OPCW of becoming “politicized.”
The team “has initiated its work to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic,” OPCW director-general Fernando Arias said in a statement to member states issued on Monday but seen by AFP on Friday.
The team would be “identifying and reporting on all information potentially relevant to the origin of those chemical weapons” where their use has previously been identified by OPCW teams, he said.
Western states pushed through the new blaming powers after a string of chemical incidents in Syria, as well as the 2018 nerve agent attack on a Russian former double in the British city of Salisbury.
Previously the OPCW only had the mandate to state whether or not chemical weapons had been used, without identifying the likely culprits.
Since that decision the OPCW — which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its work in destroying the world’s chemical weapons stocks — has been finding staff and funding for the new attributions team.
The OPCW chief did not give any details of the team’s initial activities or which incidents it would be investigating first. It is able to probe attacks as far back as 2013.
Arias has said the “very small but very strong” team would have nine or ten members.
However Arias said in his statement this week that Syria had sent a letter saying it “would not issue a visa to the Coordinator of the IIT to visit Damascus.”
The OPCW chief said he had postponed a meeting scheduled for May in Damascus as a result.
The West has called for the new team to quickly 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 say the incident — which sparked western airstrikes against the regime of President Bashar Assad — was faked.


Emotions stir in Jerusalem as HBO’s ‘Our Boys’ hits local airwaves

Updated 7 min 24 sec ago

Emotions stir in Jerusalem as HBO’s ‘Our Boys’ hits local airwaves

  • The deaths of the four youths spiraled into a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, which rules Gaza

JERUSALEM: A new HBO series on the killing of a Palestinian youth after three Israeli teens were murdered in a deadly summer five years ago is stirring up painful memories for bereaved families on both sides of the conflict.

“Our Boys,” which premiered in Israel and the US last week, centers on Mohammed Abu Khdeir, a 16-year-old Palestinian who was abducted near his East Jerusalem home and burned to death by three Israelis, two of them also teenagers, in July 2014.

“I wish I could reach into the screen and grab hold of my son,” Abu Khdeir’s mother, Suha, told Reuters, her voice breaking, soon after watching the first two episodes of the series, a co-production of HBO and Israel’s Keshet International and produced by Movie Plus.

“The show brought me right back to the pain, to the day he was kidnapped,” she said.

Prosecutors said Abu Khdeir’s convicted killers were avenging the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens — Naftali Frankel, Gilad Sha’er and Eyal Yifrach — in the occupied West Bank two weeks earlier by members of Hamas.

The deaths of the four youths spiraled into a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip.

HBO’s 10-episode dramatization dissects Israel’s internal investigation into the three ultra-Orthodox Jews eventually convicted of Abu Khdeir’s murder and the frantic initial days after his parents learned of his disappearance and death.

The Hebrew- and Arabic-language series was written, directed and produced by two Jewish Israelis and an Arab Israeli, who mix documentary footage with live production to delve into the micro details they say drive the conflict.

“We live in an extremely nuanced world where wars erupt because of tiny things,” co-director Joseph Cedar, 50, said in an interview alongside collaborators Hagai Levi and Tawfik Abu Wael. “We tried to peel back the layers of this hate crime,” he said.

But some bereaved Israeli families have said the show largely glosses over the murder of the three Israeli teens, who are referenced throughout the series but not included as characters.

Two Hamas suspects in the murders were killed in a 2014 shootout and in 2015 an Israeli court sentenced a third Hamas member to three life terms for the teens’ abduction and murder.

Levi said the creators felt they had portrayed the context of Abu Khdeir’s killing. “But the crime is the story,” he said.