Syrian air force behind chemical attacks, investigation team finds

An United Nations vehicle is seen outside the hotel where the international experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are staying in Damascus on April 18, 2018. (File/AFP)
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Updated 08 April 2020

Syrian air force behind chemical attacks, investigation team finds

BEIRUT: Syrian Arab Air Force pilots flying Sukhoi Su-22 military planes and a helicopter dropped bombs containing poisonous chlorine and sarin nerve gas on a village in the country’s western Hama region in March 2017, a new team at the global chemical weapons watchdog has concluded in its first report.
The special investigative unit was established by members of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2018 to identify perpetrators of illegal attacks. Until now the OPCW had only been authorized to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them.
Officials in the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its military backer Russia have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and accuse insurgents of staging attacks to implicate Syrian forces.

The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), the formation of which was opposed by Moscow and Damascus, said more than 100 people were affected by the attacks, carried out on March 24, 25 and 30 in 2017 in the town of Ltamenah.
Syria’s 50th Brigade of the 22nd Air Division of the Syrian Air Force dropped M4000 aerial bombs containing sarin on the town and a cylinder containing chlorine on a hospital, a summary of the report said. The raids were conducted from the Sharat and Hama air bases, it said.
While individuals were identified by the OPCW investigators, their names have been redacted from the report, which was to be circulated to the OPCW’s 193 member states on Wednesday.
“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the perpetrators of the use of sarin as a chemical weapon in Ltamenah on March 24 and 30 March, 2017, and the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon on 25 March, 2017, were individuals belonging to the Syrian Arab Air Force,” OPCW team leader Santiago Onate-Laborde said in a statement.
“Attacks of such a strategic nature would only have taken place on the basis of orders from the higher authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic military command,” he said.
The OPCW’s identification team is not a judicial body and it will be up to the OPCW’s members, the UN Secretary General and the international community to “take any further action they deem appropriate and necessary” OPCW chief Fernando Arias said.
An attack on the Syrian town of Douma led US President Donald Trump to carry out missile strikes on Syrian government targets in April 2018 with the backing of France and Britain.
Created in 1997, the OPCW was initially a technical body to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty, but it has become the focus of diplomatic conflict between Syria and Russia on one side and the United States, France and Britain on the other.


So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

Updated 27 May 2020

So-called honor killing of teen girl brings outcry in Iran

  • Iranian president Rouhani has urged his cabinet to speed up the introduction of harsher laws against such killings

TEHRAN: The so-called honor killing of a 14-year-old Iranian girl by her father, who reportedly used a farming sickle to behead her as she slept, has prompted a nationwide outcry.
Reza Ashrafi, now in custody, was apparently enraged when he killed his daughter Romina on Thursday after she ran away with 34-year-old Bahamn Khavari in Talesh, some 320 kilometers (198 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran.
In traditional societies in the Middle East, including Iran, blame would typically fall on a runaway girl for purportedly having sullied her family’s honor, rather than on an adult male luring away a child.
Romina was found five days after leaving home and taken to a police station, from where her father brought her back home. The girl reportedly told the police she feared a violent reaction from her father.
On Wednesday, a number of national newspapers featured the story prominently and the social media hashtag #RominaAshrafi reportedly has been used thousands times on social media, with most users condemning the killing.
Proposed legislation against honor killings has apparently shuttled for years among various decision-making bodies in Iran.
On Wednesday, Romina Ashrafi’s case led Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to urge his Cabinet to speed up harsher laws against such killings and he pushed for speedy adoption of relevant legislation.
There is little data on honor killings in Iran, where local media occasionally report on such cases. Under the law, girls can marry after the age of 13, though the average age of marriage for Iranian women is 23. It is not known how many women and young girls are killed by family members or close relatives because of their actions, perceived as violating conservative Islamic norms on love and marriage.
Iran’s judiciary said Romina’s case will be tried in a special court. Under the current law, her father faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Iran’s vice president in charge of family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, expressed hope that a bill with harsher punishments will soon be in the final stages of approval.
Shahnaz Sajjadi, special assistant to citizens’ rights in the presidential directorate on women and family affairs, on Wednesday told the khabaronline.ir news website “We should revise the idea that home is a safe place for children and women. Crimes that happen against women in the society are less than those that happen in the homes.”