Middle East

Syria Warned by Chemical Warfare Watchdog Over Sarin Attacks

Member countries of the global chemical weapons watchdog voted overwhelmingly Thursday to take action on a probe that explicitly blamed Syria for nerve gas attacks for the first time, diplomats said.

The executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) voted overwhelmingly to tell Syria it must declare all details about the facilities used to produce the sarin and chlorine used in the 2017 attacks.

The move comes after the OPCW’s new investigations team said in its first report in April that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad‘s air force had used the two chemicals on the village of Lataminah in March 2017.

Only Russia, China, and Iran voted against Thursday’s decision at the OPCW’s executive council, which includes 41 of the UN-affiliated body’s 193 member states.

“It’s a good result for international security and the fight against impunity,” French ambassador Luis Vassy, whose country introduced the motion, told AFP after the vote. “It’s a success for this organization, which is fulfilling its mandate.”

Syria could have its own voting rights suspended under the maximum punishment allowed by the Hague-based organization if it fails to take action within 90 days, diplomats told AFP.

In extreme cases, the OPCW can also refer countries to the UN Security Council for breaching the chemical weapons convention.

British ambassador Peter Wilson tweeted that countries had voted to “take action on the IIT (Investigation and Identification Team) report” calling it a “resounding majority vote for an end to CW (chemical weapons) use.”

The motion condemned Syria’s use of chemical weapons and expressed “deep concern” that the 2017 attacks showed Damascus had failed to declare and destroy all its chemical weapons.

The resolution also gives Syria 90 days to “redress the situation” by declaring the facilities where the chemical weapons used in 2017 were “developed, produced, stockpiled, and operationally stored for delivery.”

Damascus must also declare all remaining chemical weapons it has, including sarin and chlorine, the motion said.

If Syria fails to do comply, it will face a vote at the annual meeting of all OPCW member countries in November with recommending “appropriate action” against Damascus, it said.

Syria has continued to deny the use of chemical weapons and insists it has handed over its weapons stockpiles under a 2013 agreement, prompted by a suspected sarin attack that killed 1,400 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

The OPCW investigations team found that two Syrian fighter jets dropped bombs containing the nerve agent sarin on Lataminah and that a helicopter dropped a barrel bomb full of chlorine on the village.

It was the first report by the team, set up after OPCW members in 2018 approved a Western-backed motion to allow the organization to point the finger at perpetrators of attacks.

Previously the watchdog could only say whether attacks had been carried out, and not who was responsible.

OPCW chief Fernando Arias said earlier this week that the team is investigating further incidents in Syria.

Syria and Russia have dismissed the probe’s conclusions, alleged that chemical weapons attacks were faked, and accused Western powers of politicizing the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.

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