US requests UNSC vote on alleged chemical attack in Syria – reports

The US has requested a vote at the UN Security Council on a draft resolution for a new inquiry into the alleged chemical incident in Douma, Syria. It comes as Russia urges the UN to dispatch investigators to the site.

The UN Security Council is expected to vote at 3pm New York time (19:00 GMT) on Tuesday, according to media reports, citing diplomatic sources. “The vote has been requested,” an unnamed diplomat told RIA Novosti.

 
United States envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley addresses the Security Council, April 9, 2018. © Brendan McDermid

It comes as Moscow and Damascus have urged the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog to send experts to the site of the alleged incident as soon as possible.

“Due to the rapid escalation of the situation, Russia calls on the technical secretariat to urgently send the mission’s experts to establish the facts of the alleged chemical weapons usage in Syria in order to clarify all the details of the incident,” Russia’s mission to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday. It added that any delays would only play into the hands of those who desire to use the reported incident as a pretext to launch an attack on Syria.

While the US will supposedly be seeking an inquiry into the alleged incident, Washington has already pinned the blame for it on Damascus and its allies. Following the first reports that came from the controversial White Helmets and other anti-government groups, US President Donald Trump called his Syrian counterpart Bashar Assad an “animal,” adding that there would be a “big price to pay” for the purported use of chemical weapons.

READ MORE: 'Post-fact mindset in US: First punishment & then search for evidence to rationalize war-mongering'

On Monday, the US envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, appeared to speak of the alleged chemical attack as a proven fact, blaming Russia and the “monster” Assad for it.

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Russia & Syria call for on-the-ground probe in Douma, pledge to provide security to OPCW experts

Moscow has proposed to create an independent investigative mechanism into the alleged chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma, promising, along with the Syrian army, to guarantee prompt access for experts to the site.

Russia's envoy to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, has reiterated that Russia will support a thorough investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the rebel-held town of Douma over the weekend.

"Let us recall that our draft resolution to set up such a mechanism is in blue. And we stand ready to adopt it today if necessary," Nebenzia said, referring to the Russia-sponsored UNSC resolution to establish an independent investigative mechanism under the auspices of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

 

A photo showing a child being washed after what the White Helmets and other anti-government groups in Syria claim was a chemical weapons attack in Douma, Eastern Ghouta, on April 7. The Russian military says the photos were staged. © Reuters

Moscow is ready to serve as a guarantor of security for those OPCW experts who would inspect the site of the incident, Nebenzia added, stressing the need for the probe to be carried out without delay. The experts may "immediately, tomorrow, fly to Damascus," the diplomat said.

"There, the Syrian authorities and Russian troops will provide conditions to travel to the area of the alleged incident for them to familiarize themselves with the situation," Nebenzia said, reminding the UNSC member-states' representatives that "that is what President Trump and other western leaders called upon us to undertake."

The Syrian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Bashar Jaafari said his country is also ready to welcome the OPCW team as soon as possible and to provide them with everything necessary for a comprehensive investigation.

"My country, Syria, stresses its unlimited cooperation with the OPCW to fulfill the commitments stated in the convention of the prohibition of the development, production, stockpiling and use of chemical weapons," he said.

Highlighting the importance of a swift investigation, Nebenzia noted that it should be conducted on the ground, and not through third parties. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the OPCW investigation into last April's Khan Sheikhoun incident as "unprofessional." One of the major flaws of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), as pointed out by Moscow, was that the whole investigation was conducted remotely. As a result, the findings of the OPCW report, that blamed the attack on the Syrian government, were mostly based on speculation by analysts, accounts by unidentified witnesses and material evidence submitted by third parties with no chain of custody being implemented.

In November, the mechanism's mandate expired and Moscow vetoed a resolution to extend its authority, arguing that it was effectively "dead" and couldn't be revived, stressing a need for a new, "professional, objective and unbiased" mechanism to replace its discredited predecessor. Moscow at the time proposed a resolution to create one but it was not passed by the UNSC.

Speaking to the media on Monday, Nebenzia did not specify if Russia would put the resolution to a vote on Tuesday. Meanwhile, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said she is looking forward to the Security Council voting on the resolution proposed by the US.

 

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian man collects and bags the body of a dead bird, reportedly killed by a suspected toxic gas attack in Khan Sheikhoun, in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province © Omar haj kadour

The US draft, leaked to the media, implies that Syria might be found in violation of UNSC Resolution 2118 as a result of the investigation by a proposed "Independent Mechanism of Investigation."  The resolution, adopted in 2013, provided for the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. Damascus has repeatedly stressed its compliance, denying allegations of the use of toxic agents in the offensives on rebel-held regions.

"The Syrian Arab Republic stresses once again it does not possess any chemical weapons of any type, including chlorine," Jaafari said at Monday’s UNSC meeting.

The US-sponsored draft "condemns in the strongest terms the continued use of chemical weapons" and also stipulates that measures might be taken against Syria under the UN Charter Chapter 7, which paves the way for the use of force.

Nebenzia denounced the draft, saying that it contains "some unacceptable elements." "There is nothing there that would meet the high standards of the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention," he said.

The UNSC President, Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, Permanent Representative of Peru to the United Nations, said that he expects the countries' delegations to continue to work on the draft for the rest of Monday and on Tuesday, describing the situation as "very difficult."

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Report on alleged April Idlib chemical attack based on questionable evidence – Russian OPCW rep

The latest OPCW report on the April Idlib chemical incident lacks sufficient evidence and is based on data provided mostly by only one side of the Syrian conflict without necessary verification, the Russian OPCW representative, Aleksandr Shulgin, told RT.

“The conclusions of this report are based on questionable data provided primarily by all kinds of the Syrian armed opposition groups and NGOs, including the infamous White Helmets,” Shulgin said, referring to the report of the fact-finding mission (FFM) reviewed by the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), on Thursday.

The Russian representative drew attention to the fact that the report itself repeatedly says that the FFM investigative team decided not to visit the incident scene due to “security factors” and was thus unable to gather the necessary material evidence directly on the spot.

The team then had to rely on evidence provided by “various NGOs” that were working on the scene and testimonies of the alleged attack victims as well as those of the medical specialists, who treated the victims in “one of the neighboring countries.”

READ MORE: US slams Damascus as chemical weapons monitor says sarin used in April Syria attack, silent on blame

The report further says that the team was unable to implement the chain of custody for the samples they obtained from third parties, despite the fact that it is a standard basic procedure for such types of investigation, Shulgin noted.

The FFM report seen by RT indeed says that “the team was unable to implement a complete chain of custody, by the team, for samples from source.” Shulgin explained that the lack of the full chain of custody makes such evidence questionable, as its source cannot be verified with certainty.

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Moscow warns Washington against ‘incendiary, provocative action’ in Syria

Moscow has warned the US against taking unilateral action in Syria, as there is no threat from the Syrian military, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said. The statement comes after the US accused Syria of preparing for a chemical attack, without giving any evidence.

Asked if Russia had warned the US administration against any unilateral action in Syria, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, replied that Russian officials have “always spoken about that, including in relation to their [US] latest strikes on Syrian armed forces.”

“We believe that it’s unacceptable and breaches Syria’s sovereignty, isn’t caused by any military need, and there is no threat to the US specialists from the Syrian Army. So it’s incendiary, provocative action,” Gatilov said, as cited by RIA Novosti.

 

US Defense Secretary James Mattis © Aaron P. Bernstein

On Monday evening, the White House claimed that Syrian President Bashar Assad was preparing a chemical attack and warned that the Syrian government would “pay a heavy price” if the attack was carried out, as cited by AP.

Hours later, the Pentagon said it had detected activity by the Syrian authorities in preparation for the attack. Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said that the US had seen “activity” at Shayrat airfield that showed “active preparations for chemical weapons use.”

The US government failed to provide any further details or proof of such claims, while the State Department’s spokesperson, Heather Nauert, said it was “an intelligence matter.”

When confronted by a journalist that Washington uses the phrase to justify anything that suits it, Nauert answered: “I’m not going to get into that one with you, but this is a very serious and great matter.”

On Wednesday, though, the US suggested that the Syrian leadership had swiftly changed its mind about planning an alleged attack. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, as cited by Reuters, said: “it appears that they [Syria’s authorities] took the warning seriously. They didn’t do it.”

The Syrian government, as well as Russian authorities, have denied any allegations against them, with Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying that "such threats to Syria's legitimate leaders are unacceptable."

In the latest statement, Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov said that Russia doesn’t rule out that “there may be provocations” following the announcement from Washington.

 

 Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson © Sergey Guneev

The statements by the US administration complicate the [peace] negotiations in Astana and Geneva, and Moscow believes such attempts to boost the tensions around Syria are unacceptable.

"The statements on Syrian armed forces getting ready to use chemical weapons is complete nonsense… These assumptions aren’t based on anything, no one provides any facts," the Russian diplomat said.

"If the aim is to ramp up the spiral of tension, we think it’s unacceptable. It complicates the process of negotiations undertaken in Astana and Geneva," Gatilov underlined.

“We’ve seen this in the past. Of course there are many ill-wishers, who want to undermine the process [of negotiations]. So any provocations are possible,” the deputy foreign minister added.

Earlier, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued another official statement, saying: “We consider all these insinuations about chemical weapons which are being carried out in the worst traditions of the 2003 NATO intervention in Iraq as an ‘invitation’ for terrorists, extremists, and the armed opposition in Syria to carry out another large-scale provocation, which will result in the ‘unavoidable punishment’ of President Assad, according to Washington’s plans.”

In April, US President Donald Trump launched an attack on Syria with 59 Tomahawk missiles, which targeted Shayrat Airbase near the city of Homs. The strike was in response to what the US claimed was a chemical weapons attack in Khan Shaykhun, orchestrated by Syria’s government – something Damascus repeatedly denied.

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Syria Rejects French Government's Accusations on Chemical Attack

Damascus, Apr 27 (Prensa Latina) Syria has described the recent statements by French Foreign Minister, Jean Marc Ayrault, about the alleged chemical attack in the town of Kahn Sheikun, Idleb province, as a ''rabid campaign of misinformation and lies''.

'The accusations made by the French government represent a flagrant aggression and violation of the powers of international organizations, in an attempt to hide the truth of that crime and those behind it,' a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Ministry said.

'The French government has no legal jurisdiction nor the competence to determine what happened in Khan Shaikhun and draw conclusions,' and even that country is involved in that crime and its objection is shown to a draft resolution proposed by Russia and Iran to form a neutral and professional committee to investigate alleged attacks,' the statement said.

'Western countries resort to lying, deceit and disinformation to carry out their policies aimed at dominating the world and returning to the times of colonialism, mandate and fiduciary administration. What happened in Khan Shaikhun comes in the framework of the conspiracy project against Syria to raise the collapsed moral of the armed terrorist groups after their successive defeats at the hands of the Syrian army, the statement states.

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CNN uses anonymous source to push Syria/Russia 'chemical attack' conspiracy

An anonymous senior US official told CNN that, while the US allegedly has proof that Damascus is responsible for the chemical incident in Idlib, Syria, it has uncovered no such evidence implicating Moscow, because Russia is wilier in scrambling its communications.

The anonymous official reportedly told the American news channel that the US intelligence community had intercepted communications “featuring Syrian military and chemical experts talking about preparations for the sarin attack in Idlib last week.” While the source failed to provide any concrete details about the alleged communication – such when it was intercepted or what names or other information it contained – they did note that the US “did not know prior to the attack it was going to happen.”

 
Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. © Ammar Abdullah

CNN speculated that the communication had been sent prior to the incident, but was not processed until the US began investigating it.

The source added that “there are no intelligence intercepts that have been found directly confirming that Russian military or intelligence officials communicated about the attack,” but noted “the likelihood is the Russians are more careful in their communications to avoid being intercepted.”

The most specific proof the source could come up with was his observation that Russia has a surveillance drone, which he claimed “flew over the hospital that was treating people injured in the attack.”

CNN suggested that even if the US had evidence of Russia’s involvement, it might not go public with it, as “the US feels right now that it has made the case that Russian support for [Syrian President Bashar] Assad must end.”

The report is the latest in a long series based on anonymous sources – with undisclosed agendas citing vague evidence which is never submitted to public scrutiny – that the mainstream media has deployed to level accusations against Russia. The story that Russia allegedly meddled in the US election has become a dominant narrative for opponents of Donald Trump, who are still trying to explain his surprise victory.

The major media outlets’ eagerness to blame Russia for everything occasionally leads to embarrassment, however. A fairly spectacular example came in January, when the Washington Post was forced to backtrack on a story that falsely claimed Russia had hacked into Vermont’s power grid. The newspaper also sparked outrage in December by touting a list of “Russian propaganda” websites, which turned out to include many respected independent media sources.

The alarming trend is not limited to the US media, however. Last year, the Guardian failed to accurately report on an Italian newspaper’s interview with Julian Assange. The British newspaper falsely painted WikiLeaks’ founder as a Trump supporter who would not criticize Moscow because he was presumably in league with the Russian government.

Some examples go back years. In 2014, the New York Times published photos of armed men, claiming that they were Russian troops on a clandestine mission in Ukraine. The newspaper had taken the images from the US State Department, and both had failed to properly verify them.

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Trump Very Likely Profited From Syria Attack — Here’s How

U.S. President Donald Trump owns stocks in Raytheon, the weapons manufacturing corporation that produced the Tomahawk missiles used in the attack.

When U.S. President Donald Trump announced missile strikes against the Shayrat Syrian airbase last Thursday, he alleged that the attack was in the country’s “vital national security interest.”

RELATED: Trump's 'Beautiful' Syria Airstrike and What It Means

Claiming to support Syrian lives, he also said the attack “would prevent and deter the spread and use of deadly chemical weapons.”

What Trump conveniently forgot to mention, however, is that he may have profited handsomely from the missile strikes he ordered, which left up to 15 people dead.

Trump owns stocks in Raytheon, the weapons manufacturing corporation that produced the Tomahawk missiles used in the attack, Raw Story reports. His 2015 financial disclosure report filed with the Federal Election Commission revealed that his stock portfolio includes investments in defense firms, with Raytheon leading the charge. 

The company, worth almost US$30 billion, has seen its stocks surge since the attack. The attack itself also raked in millions for the company, given that the 59 Tomahawk missiles used cost taxpayers an estimated US$1.4 million apiece, Democracy Now reports. 

Although Trump’s reported Raytheon stocks are valued between US$1,000 to US$15,000, some believe he could have deeper financial ties to the wealthy defense corporation.

https://images.openmultimedia.biz/640x480/clips/imagen-2017-04-05-180629676032-653337.png

“Of course, as with all things Trump, there’s a black box here, because he’s not reporting his tax returns, he hasn’t done a blind trust,” Center for International Policy official William Hartung told Democracy Now. 

“Virtually anything he does, not just in the military sphere, could benefit him, his family, his inner circle financially.”

RELATED: How 'Anti-Trump' Liberal Media Cheered Syria Attack

Trump justified the missile strikes by claiming Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was allegedly responsible for the chemical weapons attack two days prior that killed upwards of 70 people. His administration, however, has not presented any evidence of al-Assad’s complicity. 

Moreover, the destruction of the Shayrat Syrian airbase has made it increasingly difficult for experts to carry out an independent investigation of the chemical weapons attack.

Organizations like Raytheon that form the broader military-industrial complex have frequently served as cheerleaders of war, since the U.S. government contracts those companies to produce weapons. 

The 192 cruise missiles that were used to bomb Libya in 2011, for example, made the company over US$290 million alone.

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Idlib ‘chemical attack’ was false flag to set Assad up, more may come – Putin

Russia has information of a potential incident similar to the alleged chemical attack in Idlib province, possibly targeting a Damascus suburb, President Vladimir Putin said. The goal is to discredit the government of Syrian President Assad, he added.

“We have reports from multiple sources that false flags like this one – and I cannot call it otherwise – are being prepared in other parts of Syria, including the southern suburbs of Damascus. They plan to plant some chemical there and accuse the Syrian government of an attack,” he said at a joint press conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella in Moscow.

Damascus denied the allegations, noting that the targeted area may have been hosting chemical weapons stockpiles belonging to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) or Al-Nusra Front jihadists.

The incident has not been properly investigated as yet, but the US fired dozens of cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase in a demonstration of force over what it labeled a chemical attack by Damascus.

“President Mattarella and I discussed it, and I told him that this reminds me strongly of the events in 2003, when the US representatives demonstrated at the UN Security Council session the presumed chemical weapons found in Iraq. The military campaign was subsequently launched in Iraq and it ended with the devastation of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and the appearance of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] on the world stage,” he added.

It was the first time the US had targeted Syrian troops deliberately. The White House says it will repeat military action in response to any possible new chemical weapon attacks.

“The sight of people being gassed and blown away by barrel bombs ensures that if we see this kind of action again, we hold open the possibility of future action,” spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday.

Putin reiterated the call to properly investigate what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, saying that the alleged use of chemical weapons demands one.

“We are planning to address the corresponding UN structure in The Hague and call on the international community to thoroughly investigate all those reports and take appropriate action based on the results of such a probe,” he said.

A separate report of a potential false flag operation in Syria came from the Russian General Staff, which said militants were transporting toxic agents into several parts of Syria, including Eastern Ghouta, the site of the 2013 chemical weapons incident.

“These actions are aimed at creating a new pretext for accusing the government of Syria of more chemical weapons attacks and provoking more strikes by the US,” said Colonel General Sergey Rudskoy, the head of Operations.

cal weapons found in Iraq. The military campaign was subsequently launched in Iraq and it ended with the devastation of the country, the growth of the terrorist threat and the appearance of Islamic State [IS, formerly ISIS] on the world stage,” he added.

 

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