Biological Warfare News

Russia Rejects Findings on Syria’s Use of Chlorine Bombs

Russia on Thursday rejected the findings of a chemical weapons investigation led by the United Nations that found Syrian forces had used chlorine bombs at least three times in the past two years.

During a Security Council meeting, Russia called the investigators’ findings inconclusive and no basis for punitive action. The response intensified the bitter rift between Western nations and Russia over the Syria war.

It came three years after Syria renounced the use of chemical weapons, signed an international treaty banning them and agreed to destroy its stockpile under a Security Council resolution supported by Russia and the United States.

Ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin of Russia said the investigation, carried out by a joint panel of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which monitors treaty compliance, was “full of contradictions and therefore, unconvincing,” according to a text of his remarks to fellow council members.

Accordingly, he said, the findings “cannot serve as accusatory conclusions for taking legal decisions.”

The investigative panel found evidence that Syrian government forces dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine on three villages in rebel-held Idlib Province in 2014 and 2015. It also concluded that Islamic State militants used mustard gas in a 2015 attack.

The findings represented the first time that United Nations investigations of chemical weapons used in the Syria conflict had identified the offenders.

Mr. Churkin said after the meeting that under the chemical weapons treaty, the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was now obliged to investigate, meaning the government would be investigating itself. “This is what they’re supposed to do under the convention,” he said.

Mr. Assad, who has increasingly relied on Russia for military help in the Syria conflict, has repeatedly denied accusations of chemical weapons use.

Virginia Gamba, an Argentine disarmament expert who led the investigation, said she believed that its work had served as a deterrent to further use of chemical weapons in the conflict. She gently disputed Mr. Churkin’s characterization of her panel’s findings.

“We stand firmly behind our assessments and conclusions,” Ms. Gamba said.

Western nations led by France and Britain have demanded punishment for users of chemical weapons in Syria. “There is no other way,” Ambassador François Delattre of France said.

The chemical weapons dispute over accountability added to frictions between Russia and the West, already aggravated by the relentless bombings in northern Syria in recent weeks carried out by Syrian and Russian warplanes against rebel groups.

An aerial assault on a school complex in a part of Idlib Province on Wednesday that killed at least 28 people, including 22 children, has been described by United Nations officials as one of the most egregious attacks in the war. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the attack, if deliberate, would be a war crime.

Witnesses and monitoring groups have said that Syrian or Russian planes were responsible. The White Helmets, a civil defense group in Syria, posted photographs of destroyed buildings. Russia on Thursday strongly denied any role in the bombing.

“The Russian federation has no relation to this horrible tragedy, to this attack,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry in Moscow.

Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov, a Defense Ministry spokesman, questioned whether there had even been an attack on the school complex, asserting that photos of the attack had been forged.

That assertion provoked disbelief among Western opponents of Mr. Assad.

“I said yesterday that Russia was defending the indefensible,” said Matthew Rycroft, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, “and it sounds as though they’ve taken that particular tactic to a new level of depravity.”

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