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.


Egypt pursues criminal investigation into Egyptian academic studying in Italy

Updated 31 min 58 sec ago

Egypt pursues criminal investigation into Egyptian academic studying in Italy

  • Patrick Zaki was arrested on Feb. 7 when he arrived at Cairo airport on a visit to see his family
  • Zaki is being investigated over charges of “broadcasting false news aimed at disrupting security and social peace"

CAIRO: The Egyptian public prosecutor’s office is pursuing a criminal investigation into an Egyptian researcher studying in Italy on charges of spreading fake news that posed a threat to security and social stability, it said on Sunday.
Patrick Zaki, a graduate student at the University of Bologna, was arrested on Feb. 7 when he arrived at Cairo airport on a visit to see his family, according a statement the following day from the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) where he is also a researcher.
Zaki is being investigated over charges of “broadcasting false news aimed at disrupting security and social peace and for using the Internet to disrupt public order and endanger society,” the prosecutor’s statement said.
An EIPR lawyer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Zaki denied all charges and that his client had mostly been questioned about his human rights work when he was living in Egypt.
The lawyer, who said he spoke to Zaki after his arrest, said the postgraduate student told him he had been interrogated while blindfolded and had been beaten and subjected to electric shocks.
The prosecutor’s statement said there “were no visible signs of injuries” on Zaki while he was being questioned, and that Zaki himself denied the existence of any injuries.
An interior ministry official said allegations of torture were unfounded.
Authorities say curbing fictitious news is necessary for national security. They regularly accuse researchers and news outlets of a lack of professionalism in covering Egypt and urge reporters to use only official outlets as sources.
Local and international human rights groups and the European Parliament have condemned Zaki’s arrest and called for his immediate release.
“I want to remind the Egyptian authorities that EU relations with third countries rely on respect for human rights and civil rights as confirmed by many resolutions approved by the European Parliament,” the president of European Parliament, David Sassoli, told a news conference on Wednesday.