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.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 22 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”