Russia has furiously accused the U.S. of putting pressure on the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to blame the Syrian government for alleged chemical incidents- even though there is no solid evidence of its culpability, Daily Express reports.
Last month’s alleged poison attack on Douma triggered a wave of punitive missile attacks against alleged chemical weapons facilities in Syria by the United States, Britain and France. Syria and Russia have accused Syrian volunteer rescue workers of staging shocking video footage of the incident at the behest of the United States. A fact-finding mission by the OPCW is currently underway and the results will be released at the end of May.
However, in a vicious statement, the Russia Defence Ministry said the initiators of the missile strike in April are attempting to force the organisation to bring any accusation against Damascus even though pinning the blame is actually beyond the scope of the international chemical weapons watchdog’s jurisdiction. The statement said:
“The ultimate goal of the U.S. and its allies is to turn the OPCW into a US-controlled manipulation instrument used to exert political pressure on Syria. The U.S., the UK and France particularly try to do that to retroactively justify their strikes against the Syrian military and civilian facilities. If they succeed, those accusations will be used as a pretext for granting the OPCW fact-finding mission in Syria new authority, which would involve holding any party to the conflict responsible for any chemical incident.”
The statement also added the U.S. and its allies are plotting to turn the OPCW fact-finding mission into the substitute for a UN Security Council resolution known as Joint Investigative Mechanism, which ceased to exist in 2017 after Russia blocked the renewal for its mandate.
The OPCW published on Wednesday a report on the February incident. The report stated the mission “determined that chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018”. However, Russia said that the evidence used by the OPCW is flimsy at best. They argued:
“The text of the report itself says that the experts were unable to visit the site of the alleged chemical attack, as the Idlib province is under full control of terrorist groups. The evidence obtained by the OPCW includes only some photos of some canisters, WhatsApp messages and some soil samples from the alleged attack site that were handed over by some anonymous activists.”
Russia also criticised the fact the whole investigation was conducted “remotely” which means that all the information about the attack was received “from some NGOs, including the notorious White Helmets”. On Thursday the U.S. State Department blamed Russia in a statement for using a Security Council veto to block the renewal of a United Nations chemical probe in Syria. The statement said:
“The OPCW’s Fact-Finding Mission does not attribute responsibility for an attack. Unfortunately, Russia has vetoed the renewal of Joint Investigative Mechanism, which was the only impartial and independent body with the mandate for attributing responsibility, at the UN Security Council five times.”
Meanwhile, France on Friday froze the assets for six months of companies based in Syria, Lebanon and China after they were linked to an alleged chemical weapons programme in Syria, Middle East Eye reports. The businesses include Sigmatec and the Al Mahrous Group, both based in Damascus, Technolab in Lebanon, and a trading company in Guangzhou in China, according to a list published in the government’s official gazette.
Two Syrian nationals will also face asset freezes, as well as a person born in Lebanon in 1977 whose nationality was not specified. The asset freezes were signed by the French finance minister, Bruno Le Maire.
“Three people and nine companies have been targeted for their role in the research and/or acquisition of materials for the development of chemicals and ballistic weapons for this country,” a French statement said.
In January, France sanctioned 25 people and companies based in Syria, but also French, Lebanese and Chinese, over suspicions of fuelling the development of chemical weapons in the war-ravaged country. The companies targeted included importers and distributors of metals, electronics, logistics and shipping. Some 30 countries meet in Paris on Friday to put in place mechanisms to better identify and punish those responsible for using nerve agents such as Sarin and chlorine in attacks.