UN Security Council calls on Syrian regime to come clean about its chemical weapons

Syria’s former permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari. (AFP/File)
Syria’s former permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari. (AFP/File)
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Updated 06 January 2021

UN Security Council calls on Syrian regime to come clean about its chemical weapons

UN Security Council calls on Syrian regime to come clean about its chemical weapons
  • OPCW chief tells council that a declaration made by the regime seven years ago was not accurate or complete
  • Accountability is essential to ensure justice for the victims of Assad’s chemical attacks, says US deputy envoy

NEW YORK: Syria’s former permanent representative to the UN, Bashar Jaafari, drew on his nation’s literary heritage during a meeting of the UN Security Council on Tuesday.
He addressed the council as its members discussed the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against its own people, and its failure to comply with a Security Council resolution ordering the destruction of such weapons.
Jaafari, who left his UN post in November when he was appointed deputy minister of foreign affairs, noted that Syrian literature “has reached the whole world.” He highlighted “One Thousand and One Nights,” better known in English as the “Arabian Nights,” and in particular its tale of “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves.”
He said: “Despite the victory of the good in ‘Ali Baba,’ the 40 thieves are still running around in Western capitals, looting resources and livelihoods and tarnishing our reputation by replacing our ‘One Thousand and One Nights’ with 1,001 lies.
“Lies without borders. Doctors without borders. Reporters without borders — everything is ‘without borders’ these days.”
As he turned his attention to “Waiting for Godot” to present further analogies, his comments were in stark contrast with the seriousness of the matter under discussion by the council.
During its first session of the new year the council was briefed by Izumi Nakamitsu, the UN’s under-secretary-general high representative for disarmament affairs, on the implementation of Resolution 2118. It was unanimously adopted in September 2013 following a UN investigation that confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of people, including children, suffocating after breathing in the nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its chemical weapons by mid-2014, and in the event of non-compliance, the introduction of punitive measures. It banned Syria from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, Syria submitted to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) a formal initial declaration covering its chemical-weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of its chemical weapons.
Nakamitsu told the Security Council that, more than seven years later, the declaration “cannot be considered accurate and complete in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).”
“Gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” have been identified that cast doubt on the true extent of the elimination of chemical weapons during the Syrian Civil War, she added.
While “some progress” has been made, resulting in the closure of three issues related to the initial declaration, Nakamitsu said 19 issues remain outstanding as investigations continue into allegations of the use of chemical weapons in a “variety of incidents.”
One such issue concerns a facility the Syrian authorities said had never been used for the production of chemical weapons. However information and evidence gathered by the OPCW since 2014 indicates that the production or weaponization of chemical warfare nerve agents took place there, Nakamitsu said. The OPCW has ordered the Syrian government to reveal the types and quantities of chemical agents produced or weaponized at the site. It has yet to respond.
Dmitry Polyanskiy, Russia’s first deputy permanent representative to the UN, defended the Syrian regime and criticized what he described as the OPCW’s “unconvincing evidence and biased witnesses from (Syrian) anti-government opposition or the infamous white helmets.”
He said the report contains “inconsistencies” and accused the OPCW and western delegations of “artificially” creating a frenzy over the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, and of “blatantly applying double standards” by forgiving some countries their “minor errors” while being implacable with the Syrian regime.
China’s permanent representative, Zhang Jun, dismissed the report as lacking “conclusive evidence.” Describing it as an “incomplete chain of evidence with loose ends,” he urged the international community to consider claims by the Syrian ambassador that “terrorists” are to blame for the use of chemical weapons. “Terrorist” is a blanket term used by the Syrian regime to describe any opposition.
Ambassador Richard Mills, the US deputy permanent representative to the UN, accused Russia of campaigning to discredit the OPCW.
“Neither this council nor the world is fooled,” he added. “One can say a thing loudly and repeatedly but that does not make it true.
“What is true is that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people. The OPCW has demonstrated this credibly and objectively, corroborating the findings of thousands of Syrian and international groups.
“Assad’s use of chemical weapons is not in dispute. It is not a matter of opinion — it is a matter of fact confirmed by the OPCW.”
Mills urged Russia and “the Assad regime’s other defenders” to encourage it to “come clean about its chemical weapons and its stockpiles.”
The majority of council members accepted the OPCW’s findings as being highly credible, with all claims supported by clear evidence.
French envoy Nicolas de Rivière could not conceal his incredulity as he asked: “How do we explain that 19 questions still remain open seven years after the adoption of resolution 2118. Above all, how do we explain that new questions continue to add to the old ones?
“Contrary to what some claim, it is incumbent upon the Syrian regime to resolve these issues. Simple gestures could be made: the first is to shed light on the new undeclared production sites that have been evidenced by the OPCW.”
British ambassador Barbara Woodward described the unresolved issues relating to Syria’s declaration as “serious and substantive.” She added: “They include the unaccounted-for whereabouts of thousands of munitions and hundreds of tons of chemical agents.”
She said there is growing concern about Syria’s “ongoing failure to comply with its obligations under the CWC and the consequent threat to international peace and security.” Since the regime “allegedly” destroyed all of its chemical stockpiles in 2014, it has used chemical weapons on at least 6 occasions, Woodward added.
“These are not hypothetical issues for the thousands of Syrian civilians who have suffered the horrifying effects on the body of nerve agents and chlorine,” she said. She vowed that the OPCW’s Conference of the States Parties (COSP) will consider taking action over the Syrian regime’s failure to comply.
Mills also called on the COSP to take appropriate action when it reconvenes in the spring, “to send a strong message to Assad regime that the use of chemical weapons and direct contravention of CWC obligations has consequences.”
The US and 45 cosponsor countries have submitted a draft resolution to the COSP “in response to Syria’s brazen and repeated violations of its obligations under the CWC.”
“We support all efforts toward accountability,” said Mills. “These are essential to render overdue justice to the victims of the Assad regime, who need and deserve the international community’s support.”
 


Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece
Updated 3 min 3 sec ago

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece

Critical weeks ahead for Turkish ties with EU, Greece
  • Twin Brussels summits in June look to cool tensions between regional rivals
  • Ankara’s Europe pivot an “opportunistic” move amid struggling economy, experts say

ATHENS: The month of June could prove crucial for the mid-term and long-term future of Greek-Turkish relations, but also for the next steps in Ankara’s relationship with the EU.
The “twin summits” of NATO and the EU in Brussels, to be held on June 14 and June 24-25, respectively, could help clear the air between the two rivals and prepare the ground for a more positive agenda.
Athens and Ankara are exploring the possibility for a bilateral meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit.
However, nothing has been agreed yet, and a planned visit by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu to Athens in May will reveal if there is enough common ground for such a meeting.
But Erdogan will also meet with his US counterpart President Joe Biden on June 14, and the bilateral agenda will cover heavyweight issues, ranging from the S-400 missile system to the Eastern Mediterranean dispute.
A few days later, EU leaders will deal once more with the bloc’s relationship with Turkey.
Since the last European Council in March, member states decided to follow a dual-track approach toward Ankara, aiming to promote a positive agenda on issues such as the upgrade of the Customs Union and the EU-Turkey Statement on Migration.
In parallel, the EU is monitoring Turkey’s behavior toward Greece and Cyprus, following last summer’s escalation by Ankara when it sent seismic vessels in maritime areas close to Greek islands, violating the sovereign rights of both states and sparking regional tensions. 
Is there hope for a more sustained and viable relationship in the region?
“There is an obvious de-escalation with regard to Turkey’s illegal activities in disputed waters, but Ankara continues its provocative rhetoric, threatening Greece on a regular basis,” said Konstantinos Filis, executive director of the Institute of International Relations at Athens’ Panteion University.
He added: “The core problem, though, is that despite diplomatic efforts and the resumption of exploratory talks, the two sides have avoided dealing with the fundamental problems that have negatively affected bilateral ties for decades. But at the same time, it is convenient to demonstrate that tensions are under control.”
Many experts believe that Ankara wants closer ties with the EU, even for opportunistic reasons, as the Turkish economy is facing increasing problems.
“The upcoming European summit is expected to once again examine relations with Turkey. Sanctions may be out of the question, but I do not foresee any drastic development in refreshing the EU-Turkey agenda,” said Filis.
“The Biden factor is certainly crucial. His insistence on human rights and democracy rendered it imperative that the Europeans follow. So, in such an environment, and given Ankara’s constant retreat from European values, unleashing the so-called positive agenda will not be an easy task. The EU needs a more solid approach on behalf of Turkey. The revision of the joint statement of March 2016 addressing the migration crisis might be considered,” he added.
George Pagoulatos, a politics professor and director of prominent Greek think tank ELIAMEP, said: “The European Council on March 25 outlined its readiness to positively engage with Turkey in a ‘phased, proportionate and reversible manner,’ subject to the conditions set out in previous European Council conclusions.
“There are a number of ‘low-politics’ areas of cooperation, including public health, climate, counterterrorism and migration management. This dual approach is the right framework; a positive agenda highly conditional on Turkey’s actions, given its track record of rule of law violations and provocations in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Could an upgrade of the Customs Union deliver a win-win solution for all sides? “The Customs Union is the only institutionalized instrument that remains important for both the EU and Turkey, given the density of trade relations,” Pagoulatos said.
“There is a strong incentive, especially on Turkey’s part, to update the Customs Union. This in itself offers an opportunity to strengthen political and economic ties in EU relations with Turkey,” he added.


Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank

Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank
Updated 26 min 14 sec ago

Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank

Jordanian police disperse protesters near border with West Bank
  • Witnesses said police fired tear gas and shot into the air to halt about 500 young demonstrators
  • Several thousand demonstrators also took to the streets after Friday prayers in Amman chanting anti-Israel slogans

KARAMEH: Jordanian riot police on Friday forcibly dispersed hundreds of pro-Palestinian protesters trying to reach a bridge that leads to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Witnesses said police fired tear gas and shot into the air to halt about 500 young demonstrators, who broke away from the scheduled route of a march near the borders organized to protest Israeli attacks against Palestinians.
The demonstrators were within five km (three miles) of the King Hussein Bridge, known in Israel as the Allenby Bridge, in the Jordan Valley opposite the Palestinian city of Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Witnesses said about 2,000 people took part in the protest, arranged by a mix of opposition parties and tribal groups in a kingdom where passions are running high since the escalation of violence between Palestinians and Israel.
“Oh King Abdullah, open the borders,” protesters chanted.
Several thousand demonstrators also took to the streets after Friday prayers from the main Husseini mosque in central Amman chanting anti-Israel slogans.
They called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and scrapping of an unpopular peace treaty with Israel.
Hundreds of mosques held prayers for those killed in Gaza.
Most of Jordan’s 10 million citizens are of Palestinian origin. They or their parents were expelled or fled to Jordan in the fighting that accompanied the creation of Israel in 1948.
They have close family ties with their kin on the other side of the Jordan River in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, both captured by Israel in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.


Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza
Updated 14 May 2021

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza
  • Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas
  • As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Palestinians grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighborhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday as Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes, killing a family of 6 in their home. Israel said it was clearing a network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion.
Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. Palestinian militants have fired some 1,800 rockets, and the Israeli military has launched more than 600 airstrikes, toppling at least three high-rise apartment buildings, and has shelled some areas with tanks stationed near the frontier.
As Israel and Hamas plunged closer to all-out war despite international efforts at a cease-fire, communal violence in Israel erupted for a fourth night. Jewish and Arab mobs clashed in the flashpoint town of Lod, even after Israel dispatched additional security forces.
The Gaza Health Ministry says the toll from the fighting has risen to 119 killed, including 31 children and 19 women, with 830 wounded. The Hamas and Islamic Jihad militant groups have confirmed 20 deaths in their ranks, though Israel says that number is much higher. Seven people have been killed in Israel, including a 6-year-old boy and a soldier.
Palestinians living outside Gaza City, near the northern and eastern frontiers with Israel, fled the intense artillery bombardment Friday. Families arrived at the UN-run schools in the city in pick-up trucks, on donkeys and by foot, hauling pillows and pans, blankets and bread.
“We were planning to leave our homes at night, but Israeli jets bombarded us so we had to wait until the morning,” said Hedaia Maarouf, who fled with her extended family of 19 people, including 13 children. “We were terrified for our children, who were screaming and shaking.”
In the northern Gaza Strip, Rafat Tanani, his pregnant wife and four children, aged 7 and under, were killed after an Israeli warplane reduced their four-story apartment building to rubble, residents said. Four strikes hit the building at 11 p.m., just before the family was going to sleep, Rafat’s brother Fadi said. The building’s owner and his wife were also killed.
“It was a massacre,” said Sadallah Tanani, another relative. “My feelings are indescribable.”
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a military spokesman, said tanks stationed near the border fired 50 rounds. It was part of a large operation that also involved airstrikes and was aimed at destroying tunnels beneath Gaza City used by militants to evade surveillance and airstrikes that the military refers to as “the Metro.”
“As always, the aim is to strike military targets and to minimize collateral damage and civilian casualties,” he said. “Unlike our very elaborate efforts to clear civilian areas before we strike high-rise or large buildings inside Gaza, that wasn’t feasible this time.”
The strikes came after Egyptian mediators rushed to Israel for cease-fire talks that showed no signs of progress. Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations were leading the truce efforts.
The fighting broke out late Monday when Hamas fired a long-range rocket at Jerusalem in support of Palestinian protests there against the policing of a flashpoint holy site and efforts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinian families from their homes.
Since then, Israel has attacked hundreds of targets in Gaza, causing earth-shaking explosions in densely populated areas. Of the 1,800 rockets Gaza militants have fired, more than 400 fell short or misfired, according to the military.
The rockets have brought life in parts of southern Israel to a standstill, and several barrages have targeted the seaside metropolis of Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometers (45 miles) from Gaza.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to continue the operation, saying in a video statement that Israel would “extract a very heavy price from Hamas.”
In Washington, US President Joe Biden said he spoke with Netanyahu about calming the fighting but also backed the Israeli leader by saying “there has not been a significant overreaction.”
He said the goal now is to “get to a point where there is a significant reduction in attacks, particularly rocket attacks.” He called the effort “a work in progress.”
Israel has come under heavy international criticism for civilian casualties during three previous wars in Gaza, which is home to more than 2 million Palestinians. It says Hamas is responsible for endangering civilians by placing military infrastructure in civilian areas and launching rockets from them.
Hamas showed no signs of backing down. It fired its most powerful rocket, the Ayyash, nearly 200 kilometers (120 miles) into southern Israel on Thursday. The rocket landed in the open desert but briefly disrupted flight traffic at the southern Ramon airport. Hamas has also launched two drones that Israel said it quickly shot down.
Hamas military spokesman Abu Obeida said the group was not afraid of a ground invasion, which would be a chance “to increase our catch” of Israeli soldiers.
The current eruption of violence began a month ago in Jerusalem. A focal point of clashes was Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, on a hilltop compound revered by Jews and Muslims. Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem, which includes sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims, to be the capital of their future state.
The violent clashes between Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem and other mixed cities across Israel has added a new layer of volatility to the conflict not seen in more than two decades.
The violence continued overnight into Friday. A Jewish man was shot and seriously wounded in Lod, the epicenter of the troubles, and Israeli media said a second Jewish man was shot. In the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Jaffa, an Israeli soldier was attacked by a group of Arabs and hospitalized in serious condition.
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said some 750 suspects have been arrested since the communal violence began earlier this week. He said police had clashed overnight with individuals in Lod and Tel Aviv who hurled rocks and firebombs at them.
The fighting deepened a political crisis that has sent Israel careening through four inconclusive elections in just two years. After March elections, Netanyahu failed to form a government coalition. Now his political rivals have three weeks to try to do so.
Those efforts have been greatly complicated by the fighting. His opponents include a broad range of parties that have little in common. They would need the support of an Arab party, whose leader has said he cannot negotiate while Israel is fighting in Gaza.

Related


Arab states condemn Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

Arab states condemn Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
Updated 14 May 2021

Arab states condemn Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia

Arab states condemn Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia
  • The Arab Parliament said the Houthi’s attack is a disregard to international human rights
  • Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed eight drones and three ballistic missiles targeting Saudi Arabia on Thursday

DUBAI: The Arab Parliament, Jordan and Bahrain have condemned the Houthi militia’s attacks on Saudi Arabia, state agencies have reported.
The Arab Parliament said in a statement that the militia’s attack, which was carried out during the first day of Eid Al-Fitr, was inconsistent with values and international norms and is a disregard to international human rights.
Bahrain also condemned the Houthi militia’s launch of ballistic missiles and targeting Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, Jordan has condemned the attack and said any threat to Saudi Arabia is a threat to the security and stability of the entire region.
Saudi air defenses intercepted and destroyed eight drones and three ballistic missiles targeting Saudi Arabia, the Arab Coalition supporting Yemen’s legitimate government said on Thursday.
In a statement announced on Twitter, the coalition said the UAVs and missiles were launched by the Iran-back Houthi militia in Yemen.
The new attacks came as fighting for Yemen’s strategic Marib city continued and despite calls by the UN for the Houthis to halt the violence.


Israel targets Gaza tunnels, Palestinian rocket attacks persist

Israel targets Gaza tunnels, Palestinian rocket attacks persist
Updated 14 May 2021

Israel targets Gaza tunnels, Palestinian rocket attacks persist

Israel targets Gaza tunnels, Palestinian rocket attacks persist
  • Health officials in northern Gaza said a woman and her three children were killed during the Israeli operation and that their bodies were recovered from the rubble of their home
  • At least 119 have been killed in Gaza, including 31 children and 19 women

GAZA/JERUSALEM: Israel fired artillery and mounted extensive air strikes on Friday against a network of Palestinian militant tunnels under Gaza that it dubbed “the Metro,” amid persistent rocket attacks on Israeli towns.
An Israeli military spokesman said that while ground forces had taken part in the 40-minute, pre-dawn offensive, none had crossed into the Gaza Strip, as hostilities entered their fifth day with no sign of abating.
Health officials in northern Gaza said a woman and her three children were killed during the Israeli operation and that their bodies were recovered from the rubble of their home.
Rocket barrages against southern Israel swiftly followed the Israeli strikes, which the spokesman said included artillery and tank fire from inside Israeli territory.
The most serious fighting between Israel and Gaza militants since 2014 began on Monday after the enclave’s ruling Hamas group fired rockets at Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in retaliation for Israeli police clashes with Palestinians near Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.
At least 119 have been killed in Gaza, including 31 children and 19 women, and 830 others wounded in the current hostilities, Palestinian medical officials said.
The death toll in Israel stood at eight: a soldier patrolling the Gaza border, six Israeli civilians — including a an elderly woman who fell on the way to a shelter on Friday and two children — and an Indian worker, Israeli authorities said.
In northern and eastern parts of Gaza, the sound of artillery fire and explosions echoed early on Friday. Witnesses said many families living near the border left their homes, some seeking shelter at United Nations-run schools.
Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said 160 aircraft as well as artillery and armored units, “not inside the Gaza Strip,” had taken part in what he called the largest operation against a specific target since the fighting began.
“What we were targeting is an elaborate system of tunnels that spans underneath Gaza, mostly in the north but not limited to, and is a network that the operatives of Hamas use in order to move, in order to hide, for cover,” he said in a briefing to foreign reporters.
“We refer to (it) as the Metro,” he said, adding that a final assessment on the outcome of the operation was pending.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday the campaign “will take more time.” Israeli officials said Hamas, Gaza’s most powerful militant group, must be dealt a strong deterring blow before any cease-fire.
US President Joe Biden called on Thursday for a de-escalation of the violence, saying he wanted to see a significant reduction in rocket attacks.
Tensions in Israel

The hostilities have fueled tension between Israeli Jews and the country’s 21 percent Arab minority who live alongside them in some communities.
Violence continued overnight in mixed communities of Arabs and Jews. Over the past several days, synagogues were attacked and fighting broke out on the streets of some towns, prompting Israel’s president to warn of civil war.
On Thursday, the Israeli military said it was building up forces on the Gaza border, raising speculation about a possible ground invasion, a move that would recall similar incursions during Israel-Gaza wars in 2014 and 2009.
But an invasion looked unlikely, given Israel’s reluctance to risk a sharp increase in military casualties on Hamas turf.
The UN Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said after the United States had objected to a meeting on Friday.
Truce efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations had yet to deliver a sign of progress.
The Israeli military has put the number of militants killed in Israeli attacks at between 80 and 90. It said that so far, some 1,800 rockets have been fired at Israel, of which 430 fell short in the Gaza Strip or malfunctioned.
On the Israeli political front, Netanyahu’s chances to remain in power after an inconclusive March 23 election appeared to improve significantly after his main rival, centrist Yair Lapid, suffered a major setback in efforts to form a government.