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.”


At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’
Updated 43 sec ago

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’

At UN, Syria accuses adversaries of using pandemic to ‘settle scores’
  • FM Faisal Mekdad pledges to continue to fight to rid country of ‘terrorists’
  • Denounces use of chemical weapons despite their use by Assad regime to quell revolution

NEW YORK: Syria’s Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad has accused the country’s adversaries of using the coronavirus disease pandemic as an opportunity to attack Syria, and issued a warning to the US, Turkey, and the Syrian Democratic Forces that the Assad regime will use “all possible means” to expel them from the country.

Speaking on Monday, the final day of the UN General Assembly, Mekdad said that “the world has experienced unprecedented circumstances, where hospitals reached full capacity, millions of lives were lost, economies contracted” as a result of COVID-19.

But, he continued, “some used the pandemic to settle political scores. Others selfishly ignored the needs of others, choosing to believe they are alone on this Earth.”

The minister, who assumed office less than a year ago, denounced countries who allegedly “took advantage of the pandemic to scale up their unilateral coercive economic measures against those countries and people who differ from them.”

The Syrian representative did not name any state explicitly, but the US has implemented a sanctions regime against Syria and its leadership due to crimes committed over the course of the country’s brutal civil war — including the repeated use of chemical weaponry and other human rights abuses.

Mekdad also pledged that the Assad regime would continue the country’s fight against “terrorists” in Syria, and said those that “continue to support and invest in terrorists will be doomed to fail.”

Throughout his speech, he railed against the US, Turkey, and Israel, taking the opportunity to denounce Israel’s occupation of Syria’s Golan Heights, which was recognized as Israeli territory by the administration of the former US president, Donald Trump, but is considered Syrian by the UN.

He also accused both Turkey and the US of looting Syrian resources and occupying territory within the country. 

“Just as we managed to wipe out terrorists from the majority of Syrian territories, we will work to end the occupation with the same resolve and determination, using all possible means under international law,” said Mekdad.

In a thinly veiled threat against the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, a Kurdish-led militia convened by the US to fight Daesh, Mekdad said: “As for the few seeking secession in northeast Syria, we warn them against harboring such illusions. By pursuing such ends, they align themselves with those plotting against Syria’s unity — and they will be dealt with accordingly.”

Mekdad also used his speech to rally against the use of chemical weapons, calling them “reprehensible and completely unacceptable under any circumstances by anyone, anywhere at any time.”

He explained that, for this reason, Syria signed up to multilateral conventions against the use of the weapons, and “fulfilled its obligations in record time.”

In 2013, a chemical weapon attack in rebel-held Ghouta, Damascus, attributed to the Syrian government, killed hundreds of people, with some estimates putting the death toll at over 1,500. 

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons also noted as recently as August this year that Syria still has not fulfilled all of its obligations under the chemical weapons treaties — including the requirement to declare what chemical weapons the regime still has stockpiled and where they are being held.

Syria has also ignored requests by the UN body to issue a visa for a team leader in its command post in the country, OPCW said, “which left the command post with only support staff from UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) for the second time this year.”


Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen
Updated 20 sec ago

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen

Omani FM calls for more global attention on Yemen
  • Al-Busaidi says that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen
  • The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait”

LONDON: Oman’s Foreign Minister Sayyid Badr bin Hamad bin Hamood Al-Busaidi has told the UN General Assembly that the sultanate is focussed on ending the war in Yemen in cooperation with Saudi Arabia.

Al-Busaidi said that Oman is continuing “its tireless endeavors and working with the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the UN, the US envoys for Yemen, and all the concerned Yemeni parties in order to end the war through a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire.”

The foreign minister added that a cease-fire must be called on all sides to “fully resume” all humanitarian efforts “to provide for the needs of our brothers in Yemen, in particular the areas of medicine, health care, food, fuel and housing.” 

Al-Busaidi said that Oman “joined our voice with everyone who believes in a comprehensive political settlement to the existing crisis in a way that restores stability and security while retaining the security of the countries of the region.”

He addressed regional security, referring to the AlUla summit last year, stressing that the sultanate “has welcomed and supported the positive developments that resulted from the AlUla summit that was held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

The foreign minister praised “the success of the reconciliation efforts led by the brotherly state of Kuwait.”

Al-Busaidi continued on the theme of regional security by expressing Oman’s hope that “the Vienna talks on the Iranian nuclear program will lead to the desired consensus among all parties because we firmly believe that this will be in the interest of the region and the world.” 

Following his comments on Iran and its nuclear program, the foreign minister referred to the need to “ensure freedom of maritime navigation” to “enhance economic growth opportunities.”


Yemen FM urges UN to put financial pressure on Houthis

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 28 min 19 sec ago

Yemen FM urges UN to put financial pressure on Houthis

Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak calls Iran ‘part of the problem’ in backing proxy militias
  • Thanks friendly nations for help with COVID-19 vaccines but says more assistance needed

LONDON: Yemeni Foreign Minister Ahmad Awad bin Mubarak on Monday urged the international community to put more financial pressure on the Iran-backed Houthi militia, in an address at the UN General Assembly in New York.

He thanked UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on behalf of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi for his efforts to bring peace to Yemen, and congratulated its people on the anniversary of the 1962 revolution.

Bin Mubarak reminded the assembly that Yemen has been at war for seven years, with the Houthis supported logistically and militarily by Iran which, he added, aims to destabilize both Yemen and the wider region by backing armed sectarian proxy groups.

“This proves,” he said, “that Iran has been, and continues to be, part of the problem in Yemen, rather than the solution.”

He added that the Houthis have presided over a humanitarian crisis in their bid to enrich themselves, calling their coup an “autumn of suffering, injustice, oppression, destruction of political participation, suffocation of public freedom, raids on houses, explosion of schools and places of worship, chasing of opponents, torture of citizens and transforming of Sanaa — a city of history and coexistence — into a large prison for the Yemeni people.”

Bin Mubarak said Yemen’s economy has declined by over 50 percent since the start of the conflict.

He thanked Yemen’s neighbors and friends for trying to mitigate the effects of the Houthi military campaign.

“Houthi militias continue to impose more taxes and customs fees even between Yemeni cities, and they harness this to feed the war machinery and to pay salaries of their own people,” he said.

“Meanwhile, militias try to circumvent all rules to have access to goods and basic needs, even from humanitarian aid,” he added.

“All this money, estimated at $3.8 billion per year, in addition to the amounts garnered by warlords, is invested in recruiting children and involving them in the war.”

Bin Mubarak also accused the Houthis of attacking civilians and civilian infrastructure in Yemen as well as in neighboring Saudi Arabia.

He urged the international community to “shoulder its responsibility” to help “end the suffering” of ordinary Yemenis at the hands of the Houthis by “exerting pressure on the coup leaders and their sponsors … to put an end to the bloodshed and destruction.”

He said the Houthis have executed innocent Yemenis, including minors, in a manner he compared to Daesh and Al-Qaeda, adding that many, including journalists, languish in Houthi jails.

Bin Mubarak called for “more pressure” to be exerted on the Houthis to put money gained from tax and “pillage” into the country’s central bank, and asked the international community to stop the devaluation of Yemen’s currency. 

He also asked for the UN to “mainstream” international aid and other humanitarian efforts to kickstart the country’s recovery, and for a package of financial support to assist the government. 

Bin Mubarak urged countries to donate more vaccines to help Yemen, thanking the international community for their help so far but saying more needs to be done to safeguard the future of the globe against COVID-19.

He thanked Saudi Arabia for its assistance in setting up an interim Yemeni government in the port city of Aden.


Jordan to reopen key Syria border crossing

Jordan to reopen key Syria border crossing
Updated 27 September 2021

Jordan to reopen key Syria border crossing

Jordan to reopen key Syria border crossing
  • Jaber-Nasib crossing will operate at full capacity as of Wednesday

AMMAN: Jordan will reopen a border crossing with Syria this week after it was closed nearly two months ago due to fighting in Syria’s southern province of Daraa.

Jordanian Interior Minister Mazen Al-Faraya said that the Jaber-Nasib crossing would operate at full capacity as of Wednesday after all technical and administrative arrangements were completed with the Syrian side.

In a statement carried by the Jordanian news agency, Petra, Al-Faraya added that the resumption of cargo and passenger movement through the Jaber-Nasib crossing, Jordan’s main gateway for goods from Lebanon and Syria to the Arab Gulf countries, is “aimed at stimulating trade exchange and tourism between the two brotherly countries.”

Jordan’s major trade route, located about 90 km north of Amman, was set to operate at full capacity from Aug. 1, but the decision was put on hold due to a surge in violence in Syria’s Daraa, the birthplace of the 2011 uprising.

In April 2015, Jordan closed its border crossing with Syria as a result of escalating violence in the Syrian bordering town of Nasib, which, at the time, was reportedly captured by the Syrian rebels and fighters from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front.

Also on Sunday, a high-level Syrian delegation, comprising ministers of foreign affairs, trade water, agriculture and electricity, met with their counterparts in Amman.

The two sides held “extended” talks on bolstering bilateral cooperation between the two countries, Petra reported.   

Jordan, which is home to about 650,000 registered Syrian refugees, has been showing high activism toward Syria recently, with observers arguing that Amman is adopting an “interest-centered” and “pragmatic” approach on war-hit Syria. 

Syrian Defense Minister Ali Ayoub, who is also army chief, met in Amman on Sunday with Jordanian Chief of Staff Gen. Yousef Huneiti.

The two sides discussed wide-ranging topics, including border security, the situation in southern Syria, fighting terrorism and confronting narcotics smuggling.

The meeting, which observers described as the “culmination” of Jordan’s diplomacy on Syria, came after Syrian troops recaptured several rebel-held areas in Daraa province, near Jordan’s border, under a cease-fire deal brokered by Russia.

Earlier in September, ministers from Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Egypt met in Amman to discuss energy cooperation.

At a news conference after their meeting, ministers said that they discussed technicalities related to the export of Egyptian gas to Lebanon through Jordan and Syria.

In getting closer to Syria, Jordan seeks to protect its interests, political analyst Khaled Qudah said. “A unified and stable Syria lies at the heart of Jordan’s higher interests.”

“Of course Amman seeks increased economic cooperation with Syria and an implementation to the refugee crisis but its strategic goal is to bring Damascus back to the Arab world . . . Jordan wants Syria as a friend and not an enemy.”

Strategic analyst Amer Sabaileh described the Syrian army chief’s recent visit to Amman as the “culmination” of Jordan’s high diplomacy and coordination with Syria.

Sabaileh said that Jordan has been experiencing the consequences of the Syrian crisis, including refugees and security challenges, and so needed to adopt a “pragmatic” approach to protect its interests. 

“Amman’s closeness to Damascus has to do with its weariness of the international community’s inaction on the Syrian war. Jordan wants a political solution to the more than ten years of war, or at least calm and security in its northern borders with Syria.”


Egypt to probe alleged Pharaonic artifacts in Afghanistan

Social media users circulated photos posted by Afghans of large coffins, a small sarcophagus, small wooden statues and other historical pieces in Herat. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
Social media users circulated photos posted by Afghans of large coffins, a small sarcophagus, small wooden statues and other historical pieces in Herat. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
Updated 5 min 26 sec ago

Egypt to probe alleged Pharaonic artifacts in Afghanistan

Social media users circulated photos posted by Afghans of large coffins, a small sarcophagus, small wooden statues and other historical pieces in Herat. (Shutterstock/Illustrative)
  • An Afghan official said some of these artifacts are “fake and worthless”

CAIRO: Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has said reports of alleged Pharaonic artifacts in Afghanistan’s Herat province will be investigated.

“If the antiquities are proven to be authentic, the (Egyptian) Ministry of Foreign Affairs will communicate with the competent authorities to provide us with the documents of ownership of all Egyptian antiquities, to study them and determine whether they came out of Egypt legally or not,” said a source at the Supreme Council of Antiquities, adding that if they left the country illegally, “work will be undertaken to recover them.”

Social media users circulated photos posted by Afghans of large coffins, a small sarcophagus, small wooden statues and other historical pieces in Herat.

An Afghan official said some of these artifacts are “fake and worthless,” the Bakhtar News Agency reported.

Mawlawi Abdul Hanan Hamid, a regional liaison officer, said a number of artifacts found in ​​Herat and handed over to the National Museum of Afghanistan are fake, adding that smugglers are trying to trick people and earn money. He said 10 people have been arrested in connection with the case and are under investigation.

The director of the museum, Muhammad Fahim Rahimi, said three coffins and 48 statues are fake, but there are also valuable pieces from the 11th and 12th centuries.

He added that the valuables will be kept in the museum until a decision is made on the counterfeit artifacts.