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.


Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

Updated 20 October 2019

Turkey accused of using illegal phosphorus munitions in Syria

  • Reports are credible, expert tells Arab News
  • Hospitals report spike in burns victims

ANKARA: Accusations that Turkey has used banned incendiary weapons against civilians in its invasion of northern Syria are credible, a leading security analyst told Arab News on Saturday.

Kurdish leaders said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s fighter jets had dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus on civilian targets in the border town of Ras Al-Ain, a key objective for Turkish troops.

“The Turkish aggression is using all available weapons against Ras Al-Ain,” the Kurdish administration said. “Faced with the obvious failure of his plan, Erdogan is resorting to weapons that are globally banned, such as phosphorus and napalm.”

Nicholas Heras, an analyst at the Center for New American Security, told Arab News: “There are now multiple credible reports that Turkey has used white phosphorus munitions in its campaign in northeast Syria, and especially against the stubborn defenders of the city of Ras Al-Ain.”

The attacks on Ras Al-Ain are being investigated by UN chemical weapons inspectors, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and Human Rights Watch. 

OPCW said it had “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” and its inspectors were monitoring the situation.

HIGHLIGHTS

  • Erdogan’s jets ‘dropped munitions containing napalm and white phosphorus in Ras Al-Ain.’
  • The attacks are being probed by UN chemical weapons inspectors and Human Rights Watch.
  • A video posted on social media shows children with burns that a doctor says were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

If the use of banned incendiary weapons were proved, it would be a grave violation of Turkey’s pledge to wage war with concern for civilian lives, Heras said.

Rami Abdel Rahman, head of UK-based monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there had been a spike in burn wounds treated at the Syrian-Kurdish hospital at Tal Tamir, mostly casualties brought in from the Ras Al-Ain area. 

The Kurdish Red Crescent said at least six people were being treated in hospital for burns. 

Kurdish officials posted a video on social media showing children with burns that one doctor in Hasakeh province said were consistent with the use of banned weapons.

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert, told the UK newspaper The Times that the burns appeared to have been caused by white phosphorus.

The substance may be used to create a smoke screen, or as a battlefield marker, especially at night, but its use as an incendiary weapon is prohibited under international law.

Since 1997, Turkey has been a signatory to the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.

Dr. Willem Theo Oosterveld, a senior fellow at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies, said the deployment of white phosphorus was not explicitly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. 

However, he said, under humanitarian law “the use of means and methods of warfare which are of a nature to cause superfluous injury or unnecessary suffering is prohibited.”