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Syria’s military command denies chemical weapon use

August 21, 2013, 18:41 UTC+3
Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi calls such claims on the part of the opposition illogical and fabricated.
1 pages in this article
Photo EPA/ITAR-TASS

Photo EPA/ITAR-TASS

KUWAIT CITY, August 21 (Itar-Tass) - Syria’s military command denied the opposition’s claims that the government troops had used chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus.

Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said such claims on the part of the opposition were illogical and had been fabricated.

Earlier in the day, the Syrian authorities denied Arab and Western media reports which claimed that chemical weapons had been used in the eastern suburb of Damascus.

“Reports about the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian capital’s suburb have nothing in common with the truth,” a government official said.

Volunteers working for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Syria said they had no access to the place where chemical weapons had allegedly been used.

“We have not travelled to Eastern Ghouta [outside Damascus] where this reportedly happened. We have not been able to get there for several months even though people there are in dire need of aid,” an ICRC official said.

“We cannot make any conclusion as to whether chemical weapons were used in Syria or not because we have not seen the results of any thorough investigation,” he said.

Some Arab mass media reported that 20 to 500 people had been killed as a result of the chemical attack. However these are unconfirmed reports coming from the armed opposition.

The attack occurred in Damascus’ suburbs of Ain Tarma, Jubar and Zamalkh, where the nerve gas sarin was used.

However Syrian Ambassador to Russia Riyad Haddad told ITAR-TASS that these reports were false and aimed at repeating the “Iraqi scenario” in Syria.

“Our Armed Forces have never used chemical weapons and all fabricated concoctions in this respect aim to disorient international observers and defocus their efforts in achieving the set goals,” he said.

“It is no secret for anyone that all these falsifications that appear from time to time about the use of chemical weapons are nothing but an attempt to repeat the scenario that was used in the past with regard to weapons of mass destruction in Iraq,” the ambassador said.

He recalled that chemical weapons “were used by armed terrorist groups in Khan al-Asal on March 19, 2013 and Syria urgently asked the United Nations to send international commissions to investigate this incident, but countries that support terrorism in Syria have politicised this issue,” Haddad said.

The diplomat said the terrorists were taking effort to cover up their activities. “We all remember that armed terrorist groups organised a horrible massacre in the same town again on July 26, killing more than 50 innocent people. This happened after Syria had agreed to receive an international commission to investigate the use of chemical weapons. The purpose of that massacre was to destroy all witnesses of the use of chemical weapons in Khan al-Asal on March 19,” he said.

Haddad noted that “Syria has not used and will never use” chemical weapons.

U.N. chemical weapons experts started working in Syria on Monday, August 19.

The team will work in Syria for up to two weeks. This period can be extended by mutual consent, Ban said.

“The Mission will contemporaneously investigate the alleged use of chemical weapons reported by the Government of Syria at Khan al-Asal as well as two other allegations of the use of chemical weapons reported by Member States,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

“In order to credibly establish the facts, the Mission must have full access to the sites of the alleged incidents. This includes access to the reported sites to undertake the necessary analyses and to collect samples. It also includes interviews and examination of witnesses, victims, attending medical personnel as well as the conduct of post-mortem examinations,” the secretary-general said.

On August 14, Syria agreed to receive U.N. inspectors for a probe into the alleged use of chemical weapons in the country. By agreement with the Syrian government they will investigate three such instances at the same time.

The spokesperson for the U.N. Secretary-General, Martin Nesirky, said in early August that apart from its leader, Swedish Professor Ake Sellstrom, the team of inspectors would include about 10 experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organisation.

By agreement with the official Syrian authorities, the U.N. Mission will run its investigation in three places. They have not been named so far. The U.N. Secretariat has cited security reasons for not disclosing the details of the upcoming investigation of the purported use of chemical weapons in Syria for security reasons.

However one of the places to be visited by the U.N. experts is already known. It is Aleppo’s suburb of Khan Al-Asal. The other two have not been revealed.

The U.N. Secretariat has already received 13 reports about the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The focus of the mission, set up following a formal request from the Syrian government, will be an incident involving the alleged use of chemical weapons in Kfar Dael region in Khan Al-Asal area in Aleppo governorate, the U.N. said.

Ban had repeatedly urged Damascus to grant the team access to the country so that it can carry out an on-the-ground investigation into the allegations. He welcomed Damascus’ invitation to visit Syria to investigate reports about alleged use of chemical weapons in the country.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the offer of the Government of Syria to continue discussions on the United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic. He remains seriously concerned about all allegations on the use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Nesirky said.

“Cooperation from Syria in this regard will be essential for the Mission to establish facts in a credible manner regarding any use of chemical weapons in Syria,” Nesirky said.

The U.N. probe into an alleged chemical attack in Aleppo, started at Damascus’ initiative, came to a halt after Western countries had pushed the U.N. Secretariat towards looking into other such instances as well. The Syrian authorities had insisted that U.N. experts should first visit Aleppo and only then, if they prove their impartiality, could they investigate other instances. As a result of the explosion of a homemade rocket with sarin in the area controlled by governmental troops near Aleppo on March 19 of this year, 26 people died, including 16 Syrian army troops. The rest were civilians.

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