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Syrian opposition used chemical weapons to provoke armed invasion - Churkin

December 14, 2013, 21:56 UTC+3 UNITED NATIONS

To prove his point, the diplomat reviewed key facts concerning the attack in Damascus’ suburb

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UNITED NATIONS, December 14, /ITAR-TASS/. The Syrian opposition was behind chemical attacks in the country, specifically in Ghouta on August 21, trying to provoke an armed invasion by Western countries, Russian Permanent Representative to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin said.

“As is known, the opposition always wanted an external armed interference. We all know how World War II started with a provocation. The American war in Vietnam started with a provocation. And NATO’s bombings in Serbia started with a provocation. There was a provocation this time too, but big war was avoided owing to the well-known initiatives,” Churkin said at a closed-door meeting of the U.N. General Assembly on Friday, December 13. The text of his speech was released by the Russian Mission to the U.N. on Saturday, December 14.

To prove his point, the diplomat reviewed key facts concerning the attack in Damascus’ suburb. He recalled that at the time of the attack in Ghouta U.N. chemical weapons experts were in Syria to investigate allegations about three other incidents, including in Aleppo’s suburb of Khan al-Asal on March 19. According to Churkin, it would have been illogical for the Syrian government to use combat toxic agents in that situation, especially after Washington’s threats to start a military operation if the Syrian authorities used chemical weapons.

Churkin also stressed that if Damascus had been prepared to use chemical weapons, the American intelligence network in Syria, which was uncovered by former U.S. National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden, would have warned about this in advance. The gas sarin, traces of which were subsequently found in the victims’ blood, keeps its properties for no more than several days. This would have required chemical to be mixed up in special laboratories immediately before the attack.

The diplomat noted that the United States had detected such actions in December 2012 but later they appeared to be routine military exercises. However they did not detect anything suspicious before the attack in Ghouta, which Churkin believes indicates that “no one mixed up the chemicals.” And this means that “the Syrian government had no sarin it could have used for a chemical attack.”

He also cited the conclusions made by the Russian military and a Massachusetts Institute Technology scientist who had studied a weapon found at the scene of the incident in Ghouta. The Syrian army does not use such ammunition and this one could have been made “in an ordinary mechanic workshop.” Its range did not exceed two kilometers, not ten as U.S. officials claimed. Since the Syrian government troops were father away from Ghouta, Churkin made a logical conclusion that “the opposition fired them at its own men.”

Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, who leads the U.N. chemical weapons team in Syria, told the journalists that it would take more efforts and resources to determine those responsible for the chemical attacks in Syria and would also require a new mandate different from the current one.

Sellstrom said the Mission had discharged its responsibilities as best as it could within its mandate, and using the mechanism and instruments that were available for its use.

He said the Mission had arrived at its conclusion - that chemical weapons had been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties - after investigating seven of the 16 allegations it received and reviewed. The methods used by the team ranged from interviews to the study of the epidemiological footprints to analysis of blood samples.

“I do not have at my disposal the necessary information to identify those responsible for attacks with chemical weapons that have taken place in Syria …we are a fact-finding mission,” Sellstrom said, adding: “We work with the Secretary-General’s mechanism, given to [him] by the General Assembly.”

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the international community to hold accountable those responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria, following the findings of a United Nations team that such weapons were used on several occasions at multiple sites against both civilians and military targets.

“The international community has a moral and political responsibility to hold accountable those responsible, to deter future incidents and to ensure that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare,” he told the General Assembly as he presented to it the final report of the team led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom.

“We must also do our utmost to achieve universal adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention. I urge all States that have not yet done so to sign, ratify and accede to this vital instrument without delay.” The team did not specify which party might have used the weapons in the nearly three-year old civil war between the Government and opposition fighters, since that was not part of its mandate.

The team, which in September found “clear and convincing evidence” of sarin gas attacks against civilians, including children, in the Damascus area, this time reported “credible information” that such weapons were used against soldiers and civilians in other parts of the country, including in Khan Al Asal on 19 March.

But in this latter case as with three other “relatively small” incidents - in Jobar on August 24 against soldiers and civilians, in Saraqueb on August 24 against civilians, and in Ashrafiah Sahnaya on August 25 against soldiers - the release of chemical weapons could not be independently verified.

In contrast to the evidence of a relatively large scale sarin attack on August 21 in the Ghouta area of Damascus, which it visited, the team could not establish a link between victims, alleged event and alleged site at the other sites, which it did not visit, due to lack of primary information on delivery systems and environmental samples collected and analysed under the chain of custody.

It based its Ghouta findings on sarin found in exploded surface-to-surface rockets, environmental contamination by sarin in the area where patients were affected, epidemiology of over 50 interviews by survivors and health care workers, and blood and urine samples that were positive for sarin.

“I deplore in the strongest possible terms the use of chemical weapons in Syria as an offense against the universal values of humankind,” Ban said. “The international community continues to expect that the Syrian Arab Republic will implement faithfully its obligations related to the complete elimination of its chemical weapons programme by the first half of 2014, and that it will abide by global norms on disarmament and non-proliferation.”

With well over 100,000 people already killed in Syria, mostly with conventional weapons, Ban stressed his determination to seek an urgent end to the conflict. “Nearly half the population of Syria is either displaced or in need of urgent humanitarian assistance. The conflict is having profound impacts on the stability and economy of the entire Middle East,” he said.

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