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.


Egyptians largely follow law on wearing masks, some worry about cost

Updated 01 June 2020

Egyptians largely follow law on wearing masks, some worry about cost

CAIRO: Most Egyptians appear to be following a new law that says they must wear face masks in public, the latest move by the authorities to slow the spread of the coronavirus as reported cases rise.
The law, which came into effect on Saturday, adds to measures including closing airports to international travel, shutting restaurants and suspending school classes.
Those who fail to comply with the rules on masks risk a fine of around $252.
“This was supposed to happen from the very beginning, so that (people) learn discipline and learn the rules. We are a country that needs discipline,” Isis said, standing near a shop in central Cairo and wearing a mask.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous country, has registered nearly 25,000 cases of the coronavirus and reported 959 deaths.
Infections rose sharply during the last week marking the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan, when families typically gather for the festivities. A total of 1,536 cases were confirmed on Sunday, double the number on the same day a week ago.
Egypt’s population is overwhelmingly young, but cities are crowded, making it more difficult for people to socially distance.
Reuters witnesses said that police in Cairo were not allowing people inside some banks and metro stations on Sunday and Monday if they were not wearing masks.
“Today people are following the rules. It is good that people are becoming more aware and abiding by this decision ... People today are protecting themselves, protecting their homes, protecting their families,” Adel Othman said through his mask, as he stood in line to enter a bank.
Some people worried that the new rules would add to the financial burden on a population where millions live in poverty.
“I need to spend 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.89) a day to buy masks for my family of six which adds up to 900 pounds a month. My entire salary is 2,200 pounds. How?” said Essam Saeed, an employee at the education directorate in Beni Suef, south of Cairo.
The government said in May that it was going to offer cloth face masks at 5 Egyptian pounds ($0.31) a piece that were viable for use for one month.
Egypt is looking to produce 30 million of the cloth masks a month to meet local demand and will in the coming days produce 8 million as part of an initial trial, the trade minister said in a statement on Sunday. ($1 = 15.8800 Egyptian pounds)