Syria condemned at toxic arms watchdog over sarin attacks

Syria has continued to deny the use of chemical weapons and insists it has handed over its weapons stockpiles under a 2013 agreement. (File/AFP)
Updated 09 July 2020

Syria condemned at toxic arms watchdog over sarin attacks

THE HAGUE: Member countries of the global chemical weapons watchdog voted overwhelmingly Thursday to take action on a probe that explicitly blamed Syria for nerve gas attacks for the first time, diplomats said.
The report in April by a new investigations team at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found the Syrian air force used sarin gas and chlorine on the village of Lataminah in March 2017.
Only Russia, China and Iran voted against the decision at the OPCW’s executive council — its decision-making body comprising 41 of its 193 member states — accusing Syria of breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention.
British ambassador Peter Wilson tweeted that countries had voted to “take action on the IIT (Investigation and Identification Team) report” calling it a “resounding majority vote for an end to CW (chemical weapons) use.”
The motion, proposed by France, called for Syria to “rectify the situation” and asked the head of the OPCW to report back on the matter, French ambassador Luis Vassy said in a speech to the council this week.
It also referred the situation to the annual meeting of all member countries in November with “recommendations for measures which could be taken... in the event of lack of redress.”
The motion was passed by 29 votes, with three against and nine abstentions.
The first ever report by the OPCW’s new investigations team found that two Syrian fighter jets dropped bombs containing the nerve agent sarin on Lataminah and that a helicopter dropped a barrel bomb full of chlorine on the village.
The team was set up in 2018 under Western pressure to identify the perpetrators of attacks. Previously the watchdog could only say whether attacks had been carried out, and not who was responsible.
OPCW chief Fernando Arias said earlier this week that the team is investigating further incidents in Syria.
Damascus and its backer Moscow have dismissed the probe’s conclusions, alleged that chemical weapons attacks were faked, and accused Western powers of politicizing the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.
Syria has continued to deny the use of chemical weapons and insists it has handed over its weapons stockpiles under a 2013 agreement, prompted by a suspected sarin attack that killed 1,400 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.


Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

A Lebanese protester hangs a gallow in downtown Beirut on August 8, 2020, following a demonstration against a political leadership they blame for a monster explosion that killed more than 150 people and disfigured the capital Beirut. (AFP)
Updated 08 August 2020

Angry Lebanese set up mock gallows amid calls for ‘revenge’ over blast

  • MPs resign in protest as political fallout intensifies
  • As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying

BEIRUT: Thousands of protesters set up a mock gallows in Beirut’s Martyr’s Square on Saturday and demanded “revenge” against politicians widely held responsible for the deadly explosion that devastated large swathes of the Lebanese capital.

At least 60 people are still missing after the massive blast in Beirut port, which killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 others and left thousands homeless.

As the dust settles from the disaster, the political fallout is intensifying.

Police fired teargas and rubber bullets at thousands of people who gathered in the capital calling for the downfall of the country’s political elite, chanting:
“The people want the regime to fall.”

More than 100 protesters were injured in the clashes.

After demonstrators set up the mock gallows, effigies of political leaders, including former prime minister Saad Hariri and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, were displayed in some of the most explicit signs of public anger seen in years.

Police shot live ammunition in the air in an attempt to disperse the protesters, who responded by hurling rocks and charging security cordons.

One of the protesters, who gave her name only as Lina, said: “We came from Hasbaya in solidarity with Beirut. We came to stand together in grief and offer condolence for the loss of sons and daughters.

“We came to tell all the leaders to leave so that we can rebuild what you have destroyed, what happened is because of your negligence and greed,” she said.

Meanwhile, the three-member Kataeb party parliamentary bloc resigned on Saturday in protest at the blast, bringing to five the number of MPs to quit since the disaster.

In an emotional speech during a funeral service for a top party official who died in Tuesday’s blast, party leader Samy Gemayel announced his resignation and that of the two other MPs.

Independent MP Paula Yacoubian also resigned, while MP Michel Daher announced his withdrawal from the Strong Lebanon bloc led by the Free Patriotic Movement head Gebran Bassil.

As international aid flows into shell-shocked Beirut, Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Turkish Vice President Fuad Oktay and European Council President Charles Michel arrived in the city to deliver relief aid and offer support.

After meeting President Michel Aoun and inspecting damage at the Foreign Ministry, near the port, Gheit said he would ask the Economic and Social Council to meet in the next two weeks to "examine the situation in Lebanon and how to help.”

He described the situation as “a disaster,” and said that “we must recognize that the Lebanese situation is difficult and complex.”

The Netherlands Foreign Ministry announced that the wife of Dutch envoy to Lebanon Jan Waltmans died of wounds sustained in the blast.

The Syrian Embassy in Lebanon said that 43 Syrians were among those killed in the explosion.

Military teams working at the blast site carried out tests for chemical, radioactive or biological agents on Saturday, Col. Roger Khoury told Arab News during a media tour.

Rescue teams are working round the clock looking for cell phone signals in the search for those missing after the blast.

However, the teams say they are being hampered by debris from the explosion, including concrete rubble from grain silos destroyed in the blast.

Military divers searching the port and nearby ocean for victims of the blast found a body hurled 500 meters by the force of the blast.

By early Saturday, a total of 61 relief planes had landed at Beirut airport carrying medical and relief supplies as well as food, Ministry of Defense Operations Room Commander Brig. Gen. Jean Nohra told Arab News.

He said that medical supplies are being distributed in coordination with the Ministry of Health.

Supplies are being stored at the headquarters of the Central Military Medical Authority in Beirut before being distributed, he said.