Syria has likely used chemical weapons 17 times

Syria has likely used chemical weapons 17 times
A laboratory technician controls a test vial at the OPCW (The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) headquarters in the Hague, The Netherlands, on April 20, 2017. (File/AFP)
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Updated 04 June 2021

Syria has likely used chemical weapons 17 times

Syria has likely used chemical weapons 17 times
  • The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be taking up a new issue at its next consultations with Syria
  • The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog said he informed Damascus he was postponing the arrival to May 28

UNITED NATIONS: The head of the international chemical weapons watchdog told the UN Security Council that its experts have investigated 77 allegations against Syria, and concluded that in 17 cases chemical weapons were likely or definitely used.
Fernando Arias called it “a disturbing reality” that eight years after Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the production or use of such weapons, many questions remain about its initial declaration of its weapons, stockpiles and precursors and its ongoing program.
He said Thursday that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons will be taking up a new issue at its next consultations with Syria — “the presence of a new chemical weapons agent found in samples collected in large storage containers in September 2020.”
Arias said he sent a letter informing the Syrian government that he intended to send an OPCW team to look into this issue from May 18 to June 1, and requested visas but never got a response. He said he informed Damascus he was postponing the arrival to May 28.
With no reply from Syria by May 26, he said, “I decided to postpone the mission until further notice.”
Syria was pressed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention in September 2013 by its close ally Russia after a deadly chemical weapons attack that the West blamed on Damascus. By August 2014, President Bashar Assad’s government declared that the destruction of its chemical weapons was completed. But Syria’s initial declaration to the OPCW has remained in dispute.
In April 2020, OPCW investigators blamed three chemical attacks in 2017 on the Syrian government. The OPCW Executive Council responded by demanding that Syria provide details.
When it didn’t, France submitted a draft measure on behalf of 46 countries in November to suspend Syria’s “rights and privileges” in the global watchdog. In an unprecedented vote on April 21, the OPCW suspended Syria’s rights until all outstanding issues are resolved.
Russia has sharply criticized the OPCW and its investigators, accusing them of factual and technical errors and acting under pressure from Western nations.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia kept up the attack on Thursday, accusing the chemical weapons watchdog of using information “from biased sources opposed to the Syrian government,” of collecting evidence remotely and relying on “pseudo witnesses.”
He said the purpose of the council meeting was not to “interrogate” Arias by asking “uncomfortable” questions, as some council members said, but “to work collectively to improve the deplorable situation that has evolved in the OPCW.”
“We need to talk frankly with the OPCW leadership in order to preclude further erosion of its authority and prevent recurrence of the miserable situation that happened in April,” when it voted “to incapacitate ... a sovereign state that faithfully complies” with the Chemical Weapons Convention, Nebenzia said. “We are concerned over increasing politicization of its work, initiated by our Western colleagues.”
The Russian ambassador said he was surprised that Arias expressed surprise that Syria was not cooperating with the OPCW investigation team charged with determining responsibility for chemical attacks.
“It is not surprising that Syria never recognized the legitimacy of the group, neither did we,” Nebenzia said. “The group was established illegitimately. You cannot expect that Syria will be cooperating with it.”
Britain’s UN Ambassador Barbara Woodward countered that “the facts of this case are clear.”
“There are 20 unresolved issues in Syria’s initial chemical weapons declaration, which is deeply concerning,” she said. “The UN and the OPCW have attributed eight chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian regime. It’s clear that the regime retains a chemical weapons capability and the willingness to use it.”
Woodward said the Security Council will continue to insist on Syria’s full cooperation with the OPCW, “and the full and verifiable destruction of Syria’s chemical program.”
US Deputy Ambassador Richard Mills said “no amount of disinformation – espoused by Syria and its very small number of supporters – can negate or diminish the credibility of the evidence that has been presented to us by the OPCW.”
“The Assad regime – supported by Russia – continues to ignore calls from the international community to fully disclose and verifiably destroy its chemical weapons program,” Mills said. “Without accountability for the atrocities committed against the Syrian people, lasting peace in Syria will remain out of reach. The United States, once again, calls for justice and accountability as critical components to help move Syria toward a political resolution to the conflict.”


Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
Updated 2 min 13 sec ago

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed

Turkey’s Erdogan discusses advancing cooperation with UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed
  • ‘We have achieved an 82 percent growth in trade exchanges within two years,’ the UAE’s top diplomat said
  • Emirati-Turkish relations are steadily growing and evolving

LONDON: Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan received on Saturday Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the UAE’s minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, in Istanbul, the state news agency WAM reported.
The two discussed the prospects of advancing cooperation between Turkey and the UAE across all fields and discussed regional issues and the importance of enhancing efforts to establish peace, security and stability.
The Ukrainian crisis and global developments were also discussed.
The UAE’s foreign affairs minister visited his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu and explored avenues of cooperation between the countries and prospects to advance relations.
Sheikh Abdullah and Cavusoglu addressed the latest global developments, including those relevant to the stability of energy supplies and food markets in the world, and the global efforts made to reach a political settlement to the crisis in Ukraine.
The UAE’s top diplomat stressed that Emirati-Turkish relations were steadily growing and evolving, and both leaderships were determined to establish a sustainable model of a win-win partnership.
In their joint news conference, Sheikh Abdullah said: “I hope that we can work together to finalize the trade partnership agreement between our countries, whereby we can double our trade exchanges.”
Sheikh Abdullah highlighted renewable energy as one of the sectors where both nations were interested in strengthening their bilateral relations.
“This sector is not only successful from a commercial point of view, but is also consequential to our countries that are both working toward reducing carbon emissions in the world.”
Sheikh Abdullah praised the increase in the volume of trade between the two countries to about AED50 billion. “We have achieved an 82 percent growth in trade exchanges within two years,” he said.
Cavusoglu said that the talks with Sheikh Abdullah touched on many issues related to collaboration in sectors such as trade, economy, technology and energy, stressing that the UAE was Turkey’s largest trade partner in the region.
He indicated that Turkish investors were keen to increase their investment in the UAE.
In response to a question about the future of relations between the two countries, Sheikh Abdullah said: “We talked about some ideas, especially with regards to renewable, solar and electric energy. One of the world’s key companies working in this field today, namely the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar), is highly interested in seeking business opportunities in Turkey.”
He added that Turkey had great potential in the field of tourism.
“Our interest is not only focused on working in Turkey, but also working with Turkey in other parts of the world, including Africa, Latin America, Central Asia, Southeast Asia and South Asia.”
On his recent visit to Israel, Cavusoglu said that dialogue was necessary and fruitful. “Differences might exist, but severing relations is not good. We have conveyed the message to our Palestinian brothers as well as to the Israelis; and we will work to take additional steps in collaboration with Egypt in this regard.”
Sheikh Abdullah said: “There is no doubt that encouraging a return to the peace process and dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis is extremely important.”
He said that Turkey was making efforts on the stability of Libya. “With regards to Yemen, we have expressed our full solidarity with the UAE and Saudi Arabia following the terrorist attacks on the two countries.”


Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads
Updated 11 sec ago

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads

Yemeni parties conclude initial round of discussions to reopen key roads
  • The discussions began on Wednesday, and are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2
  • Taiz governor said a military operation would break the siege of Taiz if talks did not lead to reopening roads

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: Representatives from the Yemeni government and the Houthis convened in Amman on Saturday to discuss a final draft of an agreement on opening roads in Taiz and elsewhere.

The discussions on opening the regions’ roads began on Wednesday, and are part of the UN-brokered truce that came into effect on April 2.

The talks were on the verge of collapse on Friday, with the Yemeni government threatening to walk away after the Houthis refused to open the main roads that link the city of Taiz with Hodeidah, Aden and Sanaa, suggesting only opening a narrow mountain route.

Maj. Mohammed Abdullah Al-Mahmoudi, deputy head of the Yemeni government delegation on Taiz, told Arab News that it had insisted on lifting the Houthis’ siege of the city by opening the main roads.

“The Houthis want to impose their conditions,” Al-Mahmoudi said.

Taiz Gov. Nabil Shamsan said a military operation would break the siege of Taiz if the talks in Amman did not lead to the reopening roads.

“As Taiz holds an olive branch today, it also possesses a shield and a sword. Taiz is currently fortified by an unprecedented national alignment that is growing every moment,” the governor tweeted.

Other military officials and activists also demanded the use of military force to end the siege.

“The least costly solution to lift the siege on Taiz is to return to the military option by supporting the forces to get rid of the Houthi shame. And this is the safest solution not only for Taiz, but for all Yemen,” Ibrahim Abdul Gader, an activist, tweeted.

Dozens of human rights groups, activists, government officials and Taiz residents have launched a new campaign on social media, using hashtag #Siege_of_Taiz_crime, to pressure the world to order the Houthis to open roads in the city.

Yemenis widely circulated images of cars loaded with goods and fuel overturning on the steep and unpaved slopes drivers were forced to turn to after the Houthis blocked the city’s main entrances.

Marwan Ali Noman, deputy permanent representative of Yemen to the UN, described the siege of the city as “ a war crime” that must be ended.

“The siege by #Houthis on #Taiz in #Yemen for more than 7 years now is a smirch on humanity. This war crime must end now,” Noman tweeted.

Yemenis say that many residents in Taiz evacuated their homes near the Houthi checkpoints that blockade the city, fleeing from snipers and landmines.

The online campaign also criticized the international community for not aggressively pushing to end the siege as it did for opening Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port.

“#Taiz has been besieged by #Houthis since 2015 amid international silence that turns this tragedy into a sub-issue which receives little attention. Unfortunately, this file is only discussed marginally when there are international efforts to end this war,” Mohammed Al-Dhabyani, a Yemeni TV anchor, tweeted.


Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media

Iran shows off underground drone base, but not its location – state media
  • State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5

The Iranian army has given some details — but not the exact location — of an underground base for its military drones, state media reported on Saturday, amid simmering tensions in the Gulf.
State TV said 100 drones were being kept in the heart of the Zagros mountains, including Ababil-5, which it said were fitted with Qaem-9 missiles, an Iranian-made version of air-to-surface US Hellfire.
“No doubt the drones of Islamic Republic of Iran’s armed forces are the region’s most powerful,” army commander Major General Abdolrahim Mousavi said. “Our capability to upgrade drones is unstoppable,” he added.
The Iranian state TV correspondent said he had made the 45-minute helicopter flight on Thursday from Kermanshah in western Iran to a secret underground drone site. He was allowed to take blindfolds off only upon arrival at the base, he said.
TV footage showed rows of drones fitted with missiles in a tunnel, which it said was several hundred meters underground.
The TV report came a day after Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek tankers in the Gulf, in an apparent retaliation for the confiscation of Iranian oil by the United States from a tanker held off the Greek coast.
Greek authorities last month impounded the Iranian-flagged Pegas, with 19 Russian crew members on board, due to European Union sanctions. The United States later confiscated the Iranian oil cargo held onboard and plans to send it to the United States on another vessel.
The Pegas was later released, but the seizure inflamed tensions at a delicate time, with Iran and world powers seeking to revive a nuclear deal that former US President Donald Trump abandoned, reimposing sanctions on Tehran.


Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
Updated 28 May 2022

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media

Iran police tear-gas protesters after building collapse – media
  • A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province crumbled on Monday

TEHRAN: Iranian police fired tear gas and warning shots to disperse protesters in the southwestern city of Abadan where a tower block collapse killed 28 people, local media reported on Saturday.
A large section of the 10-story Metropol building that was under construction in Abadan, Khuzestan province, crumbled on Monday in one of Iran’s deadliest such disasters in years.
It was the third night of protests in Abadan and other cities of the province which borders Iraq, local media reported.
Security forces in Abadan “used tear gas and shot in the air near the collapse site” on Friday night to disperse hundreds of protesters, who were mourning the lives lost and demanding justice for the perpetrators of the incident, Fars news agency said.
A number of people shouted “death to incompetent officials” and “incompetent officials must be executed,” similar to calls in protests on Wednesday and Thursday nights, it added.
Elsewhere in Khuzestan another protest, in the city of Bandar-e Mahshahr, saw people chanting while banging on traditional drums and hitting cymbals, images published by Fars showed.
People also took to the streets further afield including in the central Iranian cities of Isfahan, Yazd and Shahin Shahr on Friday to express sympathy with the victims of the tragedy, Fars news agency said.
On Thursday night, a shop in Abadan belonging to the family of the building’s owner “was set on fire and destroyed by unknown individuals,” Tasnim news agency reported earlier.
Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, who is in Abadan, said on Saturday that “two more bodies were recovered” and sent for identification, raising the death toll to 28, according to state news agency IRNA.
Officials, however, have not announced how many are people still trapped under the rubble.
The number of suspects has also risen.
Khuzestan’s provincial judiciary said on Saturday that 13 people have now been arrested in relation with the incident, including the mayor and two former mayors, IRNA said.
In a statement posted on his official website on Thursday, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called for those responsible to be prosecuted and punished.
First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber told state television that “widespread corruption existed between the contractor, the builder, the supervisor and the licensing system.”
In January 2017, 22 people, including 16 firefighters, died in a blaze that engulfed the 15-story Plasco shopping center in Tehran.


Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court
Updated 28 May 2022

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court

Tunisia party leader banned from travel: court
  • Rached Ghannouchi heads the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party that has dominated Tunisia’s post-revolution politics

TUNIS: A Tunisian court has imposed a travel ban on the speaker of the country’s now-dissolved parliament, a court spokeswoman said.
The interdiction against Rached Ghannouchi is part of an inquiry into alleged obstruction of justice in connection with the assassination in 2013 of two left-wing figures, the court spokesman said on Friday.
The travel ban was imposed on “34 suspects in this case, including Rached Ghannouchi,” Fatima Bouqtaya, spokeswoman for the court in the Tunis suburb of Ariana, told AFP.
Ghannouchi heads the Islamist-inspired Ennahdha party that has dominated Tunisia’s post-revolution politics.
Ghannouchi, 81, is a fierce critic of President Kais Saied who in July 2021 suspended the Ennahdha-dominated parliament, sacked the prime minister and assumed executive powers.
Saied then dissolved parliament in March this year. His moves have stoked fears of a return to autocracy in a country where a revolution in 2011 triggered the pro-democracy Arab Spring movement in the wider region.
Tunisia’s judiciary in January opened an investigation against the suspects for allegedly “concealing information” linked to the killing nine years ago of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi.
The Daesh group claimed both killings but Ennahdha critics including a brother of one of the victims accused the party of having “manipulated and slowed down” the case.