Syria’s tox­ins a source of strife

Rus­sia, rebels ac­cuse other of chem­i­cal-arms use

Baltimore Sun - - NATION & WORLD - By Vladimir Isachenkov

MOSCOW — The Rus­sian mil­i­tary and a main Syr­ian op­po­si­tion group traded al­le­ga­tions Fri­day about whether new ev­i­dence in­di­cates that ei­ther rebels or Syr­ian mil­i­tary used chem­i­cal weapons in the north­ern area of Aleppo where gov­ern­ment forces are try­ing to re­gain con­trol of ar­eas they re­cently lost to in­sur­gents.

Rus­sian De­fense Min­istry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that min­istry ex­perts have found un­ex­ploded ord­nance and frag­ments of mu­ni­tions con­tain­ing chlo­rine and white phos­pho­rus on Aleppo’s south­west­ern out­skirts. Konashenkov said the dis­cov­ery proves the mil­i­tants have used chem­i­cal weapons against civil­ians and Syr­ian army soldiers.

The Syr­ian Na­tional Coali­tion, a main op­po­si­tion group, how­ever de­nied that rebels used chem­i­cal weapons in Aleppo say­ing that the shells that were fired are sim­i­lar to those used by gov­ern­ment forces and mili­tias fight­ing with them. The SNC called on U.N. or­ga­ni­za­tions to open an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the case.

Rus­sia, mean­while, is ask­ing the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons to send its ex­perts to the site, Konashenkov said, adding that mu­ni­tions frag­ments and ground sam­ples col­lected at the site will be handed over to the in­ter­na­tional Syr­ian pro-gov­ern­ment forces pa­trol in Aleppo’s western Minyan district Thurs­day, which was re­taken from rebels. chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog.

The U.S. and its al­lies have pushed for sanc­tions on the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment for us­ing chem­i­cal weapons. Rus­sia has ques­tioned in­ter­na­tional in­ves­ti­ga­tors’ con­clu­sions link­ing chem­i­cal weapons use to the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and pointed at ev­i­dence of their use by the mil­i­tants.

The U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil has voted to ex­tend the man­date of in­spec­tors work­ing to de­ter­mine those re­spon­si­ble for chem­i­cal weapons at­tacks in Syria.

The an­nounce­ment comes as the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment and Rus­sia ap­pear to be pre­par­ing for an all-out of­fen­sive on the be­sieged east­ern parts of Aleppo that are held by op­po­si­tion fight­ers. Pro-Syr­ian me­dia out­lets in Le­banon have been re­port­ing that heavy re­in­force­ments have been ar­riv­ing in Aleppo over the past weeks in prepa­ra­tion for the at­tack.

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city and once com­mer­cial cap­i­tal, has been the cen­ter of vi­o­lence in re­cent months where gov­ern­ment forces have be­sieged east­ern rebel-held neigh­bor­hoods.

The in­sur­gents had seized a cou­ple of strate­gic ar­eas in western Aleppo since they launched an of­fen­sive on gov­ern­men­theld parts of Aleppo on Oct. 28 in an at­tempt to break the siege im­posed on ar­eas they have con­trolled since July. The siege on east­ern Aleppo was cou­pled with a punishing bomb­ing cam­paign by Syr­ian air­craft and sup­ported by Rus­sia, which has been back­ing the gov­ern­ment of Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad. Since late Oc­to­ber, Rus­sia said it would halt the airstrikes, amid ris­ing civil­ian ca­su­al­ties, urg­ing rebels to leave the ter­ri­tory.

Syr­ian troops launched a coun­terof­fen­sive cap­tur­ing much of the south­west­ern ar­eas they lost as well as parts of Al-As­sad district west of the city.

The Bri­tain-based Syr­ian Ob­ser­va­tory for Hu­man Rights said war­planes car­ried out dozens of airstrikes on the western edge of Aleppo. It added that gov­ern­ment forces are try­ing to re­gain con­trol of the re­main­ing parts of Al-As­sad district that are still un­der rebel con­trol.

On Thurs­day, Jan Ege­land, the spe­cial ad­viser to the U.N. en­voy for Syria, said the last food ra­tions in be­sieged east­ern Aleppo will run out by next week. Speak­ing in Geneva, Ege­land said the last time the more than 250,000 peo­ple in­side east Aleppo re­ceived any hu­man­i­tar­ian aid was the be­gin­ning of July.

The vi­o­lence in Aleppo came as Kur­dish-led fight­ers cap­tured more ar­eas in the nearby province of Raqqa in bat­tles with the Is­lamic State group. Konashenkov

GE­ORGE OURFALIAN/GETTY-AFP

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