Top watchdog voices concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons

UN special envoy to Syria, Geir Pedersen, speaks to journalists upon his arrival in Damascus on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 09 July 2019

Top watchdog voices concerns over Syria’s chemical weapons

  • UN envoy arrives in Damascus amid violent clashes in the north of the country

THE HAGUE: Member states of the global chemical weapons watchdog voiced concern Tuesday that Syria may still possess such weapons after inspectors discovered traces of what could be a byproduct of a nerve agent or poison gas at a Syrian research facility.

In a report submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ Executive Council, the organization’s director-general said the traces were found late last year at Syria’s Scientific Studies and Research Center in Barzah.

Canada’s OPCW envoy, Sabine Nolke, said in a speech to the meeting that the discovery, and reports that Syria destroyed equipment and munitions that had been earmarked for further assessment, add to “growing evidence of deliberately false declarations by Syria, destruction of possible evidence, and the alarming likelihood that Syria continues to possess Schedule 1 chemicals.” Schedule 1 chemicals include sarin, VX and sulfur mustard.

Director-General Fernando Arias also reported that Syria has refused to issue a visa to the coordinator of an OPCW team that aims to attribute blame for chemical weapons attacks in the country.

Britain’s OPCW representative, Ambassador Peter Wilson, called that decision “completely unacceptable” in a speech to the behind-closed-doors meeting. The text of Wilson’s speech was published online.

“Syria insists that it has no chemical weapons program — why then is it trying so hard to prevent those who have used chemical weapons on its territory from being identified?” Wilson said.

Meanwhile, the UN’s special envoy for Syria said Tuesday he is looking forward to constructive discussions with the regime officials on the formation of a constitutional committee as a “door opener for the broader political process.”

Geir Pedersen spoke with reporters in Damascus shortly after arriving from neighboring Beirut. 

He is scheduled to hold meetings with the regime officials on Wednesday.

“I’m looking forward to have what I believe are constructive discussions on how to move the political process forward,” Pedersen said, adding he would also discuss ways to end the fighting in northwestern Idlib province.

Fighting in the country has raged in and around Idlib as regime troops backed by Russia seek to make advances on the ground against insurgents who control the province.

Pedersen’s arrival also coincided with a new rebel offensive in the mountains of the coastal Latakia province, with opposition activists saying rebels overran a series of regime troops’ positions.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said clashes are underway in several locations in the Turkman Mountains. 

It said the fighting  killed 35 people on both sides in the opening hours. 

Pedersen’s visit to Syria follows meetings he held with Russian officials in Moscow on Friday, where he urged Russia to help stabilize the violence in Idlib and support drafting the country’s new constitution. Following his meetings there, he said “we now seem to be closer to establishing a constitutional committee.”

The UN hopes that convening the constitutional committee would be the first step toward a new constitution and new elections.

However, the regime have said it will not accept outside dictates when it comes to Syria’s constitution and have suggested Assad might even run for re-election.

The more than yearlong effort to form a 150-member constitutional committee has been dogged by objections from the regime over the 50-member list representing experts, independents, tribal leaders and women. 

There is already agreement on 50-member lists from the government and the opposition.

Pedersen has also been calling for confidence-building measures between the government and the opposition such as prisoner releases.


Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

Updated 24 min 9 sec ago

Macron slams Turkey’s aggression in Syria as ‘madness’, bewails NATO inaction

  • EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities as demanded by the US is not a genuine cease-fire
  • He calls on Ankara to immediately stop military operations,

BRUSSELS/ANKARA: Macron critizes Turkey's aggression in Syria as "madness', bewails NATO inaction

France’s President Emmanuel Macron has bemoaned Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria as “madness” and decried NATO’s inability to react to the assault as a “serious mistake.”

“It weakens our credibility in finding partners on the ground who will be by our side and who think they will be protected in the long term. So that raises questions about how NATO functions.”

EU Council President Donald Tusk said the halt of Turkish hostilities is not a genuine cease-fire and called on Ankara to immediately stop military operations in Syria.

Dareen Khalifa, a senior Syria analyst at the International Crisis Group, said the cease-fire had unclear goals. 

There was no mention of the scope of the area that would be under Turkish control and, despite US Vice President Mike Pence referring to a 20-mile zone, the length of the zone remains ambiguous, she said.

Selim Sazak, a doctoral researcher at Brown University, believed the agreement would be implemented and the YPG would withdraw.

“The agency of the YPG is fairly limited. If the deal collapses because of the YPG, it’s actually all the better for Ankara,” he told Arab News. “What Ankara originally wanted was to take all of the belt into its control and eliminate as many of the YPG forces as possible. Instead, the YPG is withdrawing with a portion of its forces and its territory intact. Had the deal collapsed because of the YPG, Ankara would have reason to push forward, this time with much more legitimacy.”