The Russian government flew in 17 witnesses of the chemical attack in Douma earlier this month
Russia slammed for ‘obscene masquerade’ at OPCW
Russia today sought to rebut allegations of Syrian involvement in the chemical attack on Douma earlier this month by bringing 17 witnesses to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) headquarters in The Hague.
In a carefully staged press conference, the Russians produced 11-year-old Hassan Diab, who survived the attack and was filmed being hosed down with water in video of the aftermath posted online.
The strike on April 7th killed more than 40 people, and a retaliation by the US, UK and France saw more than 100 missiles fired at suspected chemical weapons manufacturing sites in Syria.
The Russian ambassador to The Netherlands, Alexander Shulgin, told reporters that Diab was proof the claims were falsified. “Today we can prove that the footage of the White Helmets is a crude staged action, and that the UK, US and France were afraid to look into Diab’s eyes,” he said.
Mr Shulgin added “The truth will out. It is very important to prevent provocations in the future”.
“Russia does not lie”.
Diab, with his father sat beside him, said just a few lines, when directed to by Mr Shulgin. “We were in the basement and heard people shouting that we needed to go to the hospital,” he said. “We went through the tunnels and at the hospital they started pouring water on me”.
The statement was a far cry from the video which showed Diab in tears as he was hosed down with water in response to exposure to suspected chemical weapons more than two weeks ago.
However, opposition activists and first responders maintain the attack did take place and was carried out by the Syrian regime. The activists told AP that a number of those killed in the attack had suffocated in a basement where they had been hiding from Syrian regime and Russian airstrikes.
Several countries boycotted the briefing, and the UK permanent representative to the OPCW Peter Wilson, attacked the Russian move.
“Russia and Syria’s briefing at the OPCW premises today is a stunt,” Mr Wilson said. “The director general has opposed Russia’s decision to host this briefing today. The UK will not attend, in company with our allies.
“The OPCW is not a theatre. Russia’s decision to misuse it is yet another Russian attempt to undermine the OPCW’s work.”
A Russian invitation to the briefing also labelled the victims who had appeared in the video “comedians”, something Mr Wilson said showed “the utter disregard Russia and Syria have for the suffering of the Syrian people.”
Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a former commanding officer of the UK’s Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) regiment, blasted Russia’s use of Diab. “Disgraceful exploitation of this child why not give his evidence to OPCW currently in Douma?
He added that the press conference was “a ridiculous Monty Python-esque tirade of disinformation”.
The French envoy to the OPCW Philippe Lalliot also blasted the Russians. “This obscene masquerade does not come as a surprise from the Syrian government, which has massacred and gassed its own people for the last seven years,” he said.
Meanwhile in Syria, the Assad government pushed further into one of the final opposition-held neighbourhoods of Damascus. In Hajar Al Aswad and Yarmouk, a Palestinian refugee camp, both currently under the control of ISIS, there was fierce fighting a week into a regime offensive to shore up security around the capital.
Video footage captured by activists showed regime and Russian aircraft bombarding the neighbourhoods from the air.
Chemical weapons inspectors from the OPCW made a second visit to Douma, the site of the chemical attack on Wednesday, collecting samples from a new location that will be analysed. Moscow and Damascus insist that no attack took place and that footage was staged by The White Helmets.