US, Russia clash at UN over Syria chlorine attacks

2018-02-06 12:03
A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (Hasan Mohamed, AFP)

A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a make-shift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital Damascus. (Hasan Mohamed, AFP)

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United Nations – The United States and Russia clashed at the UN Security Council on Monday over a push by Washington to condemn reported chlorine gas attacks in Syria that have left many injured in recent days, including children.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council that there was "obvious evidence from dozens of victims" to corroborate the chlorine attacks in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta.

"Now we have reports that the Assad regime has used chlorine gas against its people multiple times in recent weeks, including just yesterday," Haley said.

The United States proposed that the council adopt a statement condemning "in the strongest terms" the reported February 1 chlorine attack in the town of Douma that injured more than 20 civilians including children, according to the draft seen by AFP.

Russia hit back and accused the United States of waging a "propaganda campaign" aimed at falsely blaming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for chemical attacks.

"It's completely clear to us the goal is to basically accuse the Syrian government of chemical weapons use where no perpetrators have been identified," said Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia.

Russia proposed an amended draft statement that made no mention of the attacks in Eastern Ghouta and stressed that the reports should be "credibly and professionally investigated," according to the text seen by AFP.

The United States rejected the changes and no statement was adopted, diplomats said.

Haley slammed Russia for balking at a statement that she described as a "simple condemnation of Syrian children being suffocated by chlorine gas".

Three reported chlorine attacks

The US-drafted statement expressed grave concern over three reported chlorine attacks in Eastern Ghouta in recent weeks and asserted that those responsible for using chemical weapons must be held accountable.

The Russian ambassador said that while Moscow was ready to condemn chemical weapons use, it could not support the draft statement "in its current form" because it pointed the finger of guilt to Damascus.

The US State Department said it was the sixth such attack in the past 30 days in Syria.

"By shielding the Syrian regime from accountability, Russia has not lived up to its commitments," spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"The use of chemical weapons by all parties in Syria must unequivocally stop. The people of Syria are suffering; the rest of the world is watching."

The council met to discuss chemical weapons use in Syria after Russia used its veto power twice in November to block the renewal of a UN investigative panel tasked with identifying those responsible for the deadly gas attacks.

Last month, Russia put forward a draft resolution to establish a new investigation, but Western diplomats have raised questions about the impartiality of the proposed panel.

"This is not an impartial mechanism. It is a way to whitewash the findings of the latest investigation that Russia desperately wants to bury," Haley told the council.

The previous probe, vetoed by Russia, had found that Syrian forces were responsible for the April 2016 sarin attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, that killed scores of people.

The panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), also found that Assad's forces used chlorine in attacks on rebel-held villages in 2014 and 2015.

It also found that Islamic State group (ISIS) jihadists had used mustard gas in 2015.

Read more on:    un  |  syria

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