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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 14 December 2018

US accuses Russia of protecting Assad regime and 'terrorists' using chemical weapons

It comes after Moscow vetoed the renewal of the Joint Investigative Mechanism — an inquiry working to determine the parties responsible for chemical attacks in Syria — for the second time in 24 hours

US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley votes for a resolution to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism for another year during a meeting of the UN Security Council  in New York on November 17, 2017. Brendan McDermid / Reuters
US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley votes for a resolution to renew the Joint Investigative Mechanism for another year during a meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on November 17, 2017. Brendan McDermid / Reuters

The United States has accused Russia of "once again protecting the Assad regime and terrorists" using chemical weapons in Syria after Moscow vetoed the renewal of an inquiry investigating the culprits of chemical attacks in the country for the second time in 24 hours.

Russia's first veto came on Thursday when it blocked a US-sponsored UN resolution that would extend the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (Jim) — a joint operation between the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) — for another year.

A day later, Moscow blocked a last-ditch attempt by Japan to extend the Jim's mandate for 30 days to allow for further discussions.

Following Friday's vote at the UN Security Council, the White House issued a statement saying it would not stop pressing the council to renew the Jim's mandate "so that it may continue its important work of identifying the perpetrators of heinous chemical weapons attacks, seeking justice for their victims, and sending a clear message that the use of chemical weapons will not be tolerated by anyone, anywhere".

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"By vetoing the renewal of the Jim, Russia has sent a clear message that it does not value the lives of the victims of chemical weapons attacks or respect reasonable standards of international conduct regarding the use of such weapons," the statement said.

It comes after the US's envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, questioned Russia's support of peace in Syria following Thursday's Security Council vote.

"In effect Russia accepts the use of chemical weapons in Syria. How then can we trust Russia’s support for supposed peace in Syria?,” she said.

The Japan draft was supported by 12 of the 15 council members. Bolivia joined Russia in voting "No" while China abstained.

Moscow wants to see major changes in the way the Jim operates and has been highly critical of the inquiry's findings that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and used sarin in an aerial attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in April that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.

Syria has denied any use of chemical weapons, while Russia has accused the Jim of using faulty methods to determine that president Bashar Al Assad's government was to blame for the attacks, including not visiting Khan Sheikhoun.

* With reporting by Associated Press