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Syria stalling inspectors over chemical weapons stocks

Security Council hears Al Assad regime yet to co-operate with inspectors

OPCW inspectors travelled to Damascus in April 2018. Reuters
OPCW inspectors travelled to Damascus in April 2018. Reuters

Syria came under pressure on Tuesday over its years of failure to give a full accounting to international inspectors about chemical weapons stocks.

In a private meeting at the United Nations in New York, the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons told diplomats that President Bashar Al Assad's regime was refusing to fully co-operate.

Separately, diplomats told The National that OPCW officials had not been granted visas to visit Syria. The issue is pressing as international concern remains high that the Al Assad regime could use toxic chemicals against civilians in its military campaign to retake all sovereign territory.

Fernando Arias, Director General of the OPCW, and Ms Izumi Nakamitsu, Undersecretary General and High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, briefed the council.

Mr Arias told reporters afterwards that the blocking of inspectors meant it cannot yet be verified that Syria has fully declared its chemical weapons stockpiles.

“It remains the responsibility of Syria to fully comply with its international obligations,” he said, and that world powers must remain committed to investigating allegations of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons since 2013, when Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Mr Arias said OPCW investigators in charge of identifying perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria would produce their first report “in the next few months”.

The OPCW voted to apportion blame for chemical weapons attacks last year after Russia used its veto in the council to terminate a joint UN-OPCW investigative unit set up in 2015 to determine responsibility.

Regarding the alleged use of toxic chemicals as a weapon in Douma, Syria, on April 7, 2018, the OPCW's fact-finding mission included on-site visits to collect environmental samples, conduct witness interviews and gather data. Investigators further analysed witness testimonies, environmental and biomedical samples analysis, toxicological and ballistic analyses and additional digital information gathered from witnesses.

The material gathered provided “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon” had taken place, the OPCW said in March this year. The toxic chemical contained reactive chlorine, a substance that the regime has repeatedly been accused of dropping on civilians.

A diplomat present at Tuesday's meeting told The National that the Al Assad regime was continuing to evade scrutiny over chemical weapons use. “They have not given the necessary visas,” he said.

The OPCW was created to implement a 1997 treaty that banned chemical weapons, but had lacked a mandate to name the parties it found responsible for using them.

Britain led the successful campaign in June 2018 to give the 193-nation chemical weapons watchdog new teeth, over Russian objections.

Karen Pierce, the UK's Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the UN, said: “It has been at least six years since we have had an adequate declaration or disclosure from Syria on their chemical weapons stocks.”

Updated: November 6, 2019 09:10 PM

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