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Lavrov urges world to wait for results of UN investigation in Syria

August 26, 2013, 19:53 UTC+3
Foreign Minister reminded that Russian report on a Syrian chemical weapon incident in March was “absolutely professional and concrete.”
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Photo EPA/ITAR-TASS

Photo EPA/ITAR-TASS

MOSCOW, August 26 (Itar-Tass) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the international community to wait for the results of the U.N. investigation into alleged uses of chemical weapons in Syria.

“Suffice it to take a look at websites: many of them provide information and photos of the shell that was exploded [in Damascus’ suburb of Ghouta on August 21] and describe the substance it contained,” the minister said at a press conference on Monday, August 26.

Experts say that these videos and images raise many questions. “When they show bloodcurdling images with dozens of killed children, the question arises: why and how did they all happen to be in the same place at the same time? No one has explained this,” Lavrov said.

He also wonders why the symptoms described in the videos do not quite coincide with the symptoms that are characteristic of poisoning with sarin or other toxic agents, and why aren’t the people who are helping those affected wearing means of protection.

Lavrov referred to intercepted e-mail messages posted on the Internet, which indicated that certain chemical agents had been brought in for the rebels from abroad.

“I cannot assert anything, but it’s absolutely clear that there was no political or military sense for the Syrian government to use chemical weapons at a time when [U.N.] experts were working there, the military situation was in favour of the government and an American-Russian meeting to prepare Geneva II [conference on Syrian crisis settlement] was to be held,” Lavrov said. “On the contrary, it would have been of certain interest for the other side to organize such a provocation for the reasons I mentioned above, if they want to provoke strikes against the regime from abroad.”

“We must wait for the objective investigation by the group of experts, if no attempts are made of course to obstruct their work as it happened today when they were fired at,” the minister said.

On the night from August 20 to August 21, several pan-Arab news channels reported that chemical weapons had been used on the eastern outskirts of Damascus. They cited sources in the armed opposition, but the official authorities and the military command denied these reports.

The reports prodded several countries into asking the U.N. Secretariat to redirect its team of experts who are investigating alleged chemical attacks in Aleppo to the outskirts of Damascus.

The Syrian army found a depot with chemical weapons belonging to rebels outside Damascus, the state television channel Al-Ikhbariya said.

Army troops found barrels with chemicals marked “Made in Saudi Arabia”, a large number of gas masks and medicines which are used in the event of chemical poisoning and which were made by a joint pharmaceutical company created by Qatar and Germany, SANA said.

Upon entering Jobar, an outskirt of Damascus where the chemical weapons had been found, some of the army soldiers started choking and were taken to hospital. The exact number of troops affected was not disclosed but some of them were said to be in critical condition.

Rebels had earlier used chemical weapons in this area. However they claim that government troops had shelled the outskirts of Damascus last Wednesday, using ammunition containing toxic agents. The official authorities denied this as slander.

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

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “shocked” to hear the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus and “is aware that a number of Member States, the Arab League and the European Union have expressed grave concern about the most recent reports of the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. The Secretary-General reaffirms his determination to ensure a thorough investigation of the reported alleged incidents that are brought to his attention by Member States,” his deputy spokesperson Eduardo del Buey said earlier in the day.

He quoted Ban as saying that “any use of chemical weapons by any side under any circumstances would violate international humanitarian law.”

Ban said the use of any chemical weapons in Syria would amount to a “crime against humanity” and there would be “serious consequences” for the perpetrators.

“Any use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anybody, under any circumstances, would violate international law,” he said on Friday, August 23. “Such a crime against humanity should result in serious consequences for the perpetrator. Once again, I call for an immediate investigation of this latest incident.”

The U.N. inspector arrived in Damascus’ suburb of Ghouta and visited a military hospital there. On the way, the convoy of cars was attacked by a sniper and the inspectors had to return to Damascus to replace the damaged automobile.

The team of U.N. experts led by Professor Ake Sellstrom, will take samples at the site of the alleged chemical attack and conduct a forensic examination. They will also question those affected by the attack, the medics who attended to them, and eye-witnesses.

Rebels claim that more than 1,000 people might have been killed by the attack. Official Damascus dismissed reports about the use of chemical weapons as slander aimed at undermining the work of the U.N. experts in the country.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the shell with a toxic agent had been fired from the positions occupied by rebels.

Previously Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov declared he knew what position on Syria the West would assume in the United Nations if it took the matter there at all.

“Western leaders are making statements indicating that they are not going to wait for the results of the [U.N.] investigation [into alleged chemical attacks in Syria], they have already made up their mind,” Lavrov said at a press conference on Monday, August 26.

He said the Russian report on the incident in the Syrian town of Aleppo in March of this year was “absolutely professional and concrete.”

“Experts of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons do not make accusatory decisions, they only establish facts: whether a shell was made at a factory or at home, whether sarin was used or not. Further decisions are to be made by the U.N. Security Council. There can be different situations in the U.N. Security Council and consensus cannot be always reached,” Lavrov said.

“The peremptoriness and the confidence in its correctness, which the West is demonstrating by stating that they know everything allow us to assume what position they can take in the U.N. Security Council if they go there at all,” the minister said.

Lavrov said no one had seen “undeniable evidence” of the Syrian regime’s responsibility for the events in Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. “We in the U.N. Security Council will use all the information that is available in the world,” he added.

Moscow called for an “objective and professional” investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria by government troops.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said on August 21, following an alleged chemical attack on the outskirts of Damascus, that the aggressive information campaign related to purported use of chemical weapons on the outskirts of Damascus suggests that this is a provocation and undermines chances for convening a conference on Syria commonly referred to as Geneva-2.

“All this looks very much like an attempt to create a pretext any cost for demanding that the U.N. Security Council side with the opponents of the regime and thus undermine the chances for convening the Geneva conference the preparation of which will be discussed at a meeting of Russian and American experts on August 28,” Lukashevich said.

The Foreign Ministry urged “all those who can influence armed extremists to exert every effort to stop provocations with the use of chemical weapons.”

The ministry said that a rocket with a toxic agent had been launched in the eastern suburb of Damascus from the positions occupied by opposition militants.

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.

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 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.

Moscow has no plans for war with anyone, Lavrod announced earlier.

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