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Assad not behind chemical attacks: Russia

File - A handout picture taken on January 7, 2014, and released by Norwegian Armed Forces shows the Danish cargo ship "Ark Futura" at the Syrian port of Latakia before being loaded with Syria's chemical agents before their transfer out of the country for destruction. ("AFP PHOTO/ROYAL DANISH NAVY")

MOSCOW/BEIRUT: Russia Friday said it had proof the Syrian government was not behind a new spate of alleged chemical attacks in the country, amid fresh international calls for a probe.

“Accusations against government forces continue to be fabricated about alleged cases of them using chemical substances,” said a Russian Foreign Ministry statement.

“The Russian side has authentic information that such statements are false,” it said.

United Nations Security Council members this week called for a new probe into claims of chlorine gas attacks in Syria, with the government and opposition both accusing each other of chemical attacks on rebel-held provinces.

France and the United States allege that Assad’s forces may have unleashed industrial chemicals on a rebel-held village in central Hama province this month.

Activists have also reported chlorine gas attacks, most recently in the northwestern Idlib province Monday.

“This, yet another anti-Syrian ‘chemical’ hysteria, highlights the question of the real goals of its initiators, who are not abandoning attempts to find a reason for intervention in Syria,” said the Russian ministry statement.

China’s Foreign Ministry said Friday that it did not believe that its biggest arms-making company, Norinco, had violated any international conventions, after a canister bearing its name was shown in footage believed to document a gas attack in Syria.

In the rebel-held village of Kafr Zeita in the central province of Hama, 200 kilometers north of Damascus, opposition activists released video footage of people choking and being fed oxygen following what they said were bombs dropped from helicopters on April 11 and 12.

The non-governmental organization Doctors of the World said Friday that one of the Syrian hospitals it supports in Idlib, near the border with Turkey, has received nine patients “presenting symptoms which could be a result of exposure to chlorine gas,” since April 21.

A statement from the NGO said the patients had acute respiratory distress, one of the short-term effects of the inhalation of chlorine vapor.

Further footage showed a partially exploded canister with the chemical symbol for chlorine alongside Norinco’s name.

Reuters could not verify the authenticity of the videos and Norinco, also known as China North Industries Group Corporation, has not responded to requests from Reuters for comment.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang repeated an earlier statement that chlorine has wide industrial uses.

“We believe that the Chinese company, when it was engaged in this matter ... did not violate relevant international conventions,” he said at a news briefing.

“Of course, we will take an earnest and responsible attitude in investigating this matter,” Qin added.

China has said it opposes both the production and use of chemical weapons, abides by its non-proliferation obligations and strictly controls exports of dual-use items, including sensitive chemicals.

Syria has vowed to hand over or destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal by the end of this week, but still has roughly 14 percent of the chemicals it declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

The alleged battlefield use of chlorine gas, a substance that was never included on the list submitted to the OPCW, has led some countries to consider requesting an investigation, possibly through the U.N..

Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed with the United States and Russia to dispose of his chemical weapons – an arsenal that Damascus had never previously formally acknowledged – after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of the capital last August, sparking international threats of military intervention.

Washington and its Western allies said Assad’s forces had unleashed the nerve agent, in the world’s worst chemical attacks in a quarter-century. The government blamed the rebels.

China and its ally Russia have vetoed Western efforts to impose U.N. penalties on Assad. But China, seeking to show that it is not taking sides, has urged the government to talk to the opposition and take steps to meet demands for political change.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on April 26, 2014, on page 12.

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Summary

Russia Friday said it had proof the Syrian government was not behind a new spate of alleged chemical attacks in the country, amid fresh international calls for a probe.

United Nations Security Council members this week called for a new probe into claims of chlorine gas attacks in Syria, with the government and opposition both accusing each other of chemical attacks on rebel-held provinces.

Activists have also reported chlorine gas attacks, most recently in the northwestern Idlib province Monday.

Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed with the United States and Russia to dispose of his chemical weapons – an arsenal that Damascus had never previously formally acknowledged – after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack on the outskirts of the capital last August, sparking international threats of military intervention.


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