Syria dis­putes gas-at­tack probe

Watch­dog’s re­port the cre­ation of ‘sick mind,’ min­istry says

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - SARAH EL DEEB In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Albert Aji of the Associated Press.

BEIRUT — Syria’s gov­ern­ment on Satur­day ac­cused the in­ter­na­tional chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog of re­ly­ing on the tes­ti­monies of “ter­ror­ists” in its probe that con­cluded sarin gas was used in a deadly at­tack in Syria two months ago.

The Syr­ian For­eign Min­istry in a state­ment also lashed out at the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons, say­ing its in­ves­ti­ga­tion has been sub­jected to po­lit­i­cal ex­tor­tion, cost­ing the agency its cred­i­bil­ity and im­par­tial­ity. The min­istry called its find­ings “the cre­ation of a sick mind.”

While the or­ga­ni­za­tion didn’t ap­por­tion blame, the U.S., the U.K. and Syr­ian ac­tivists have held the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment re­spon­si­ble for the April 4 at­tack on Khan Sheikhoun in the op­po­si­tion-con­trolled Idlib prov­ince. More than 90 peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, were killed, spark­ing anger around the world as pho­tos and video of the af­ter­math, which in­cluded images of quiv­er­ing chil­dren dy­ing, were widely broad­cast.

The U.S. launched a puni­tive strike against the Syr­ian mil­i­tary days af­ter the at­tack. Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad and his main backer Rus­sia have de­nied the use of chem­i­cal weapons, ac­cus­ing the Syr­ian op­po­si­tion of launch­ing the at­tacks.

The Syr­ian For­eign Min­istry said the chem­i­cal weapons watch­dog had de­clined to visit Khan Sheikhoun or the base from which the al­leged at­tack was pur­port­edly launched. It said the Syr­ian gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to co­op­er­ate with the in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“The re­port comes up with a fab­ri­cated and ex­ag­ger­ated story that has no cred­i­bil­ity and can’t be ac­cepted in any way be­cause it is il­log­i­cal and is the cre­ation of a sick mind,” the min­istry’s state­ment said. It ques­tioned the tes­ti­monies col­lected by the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons in Turkey from wit­nesses it called “ter­ror­ists” and “per­jur­ers” con­trolled by West­ern in­tel­li­gence agents.

It called on the group to pre­pare “im­par­tial and cred­i­ble re­ports that have not been sub­jected to ex­tor­tions by coun­tries and par­ties that pre­vent it from reach­ing the truth.”

Both the U.S. and the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons de­fended the probe’s method­ol­ogy. In­ves­ti­ga­tors did not visit the scene of the at­tack, deem­ing it too dan­ger­ous, but an­a­lyzed sam­ples from vic­tims and sur­vivors, and in­ter­viewed wit­nesses.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion’s find­ings will be used by a joint United Na­tions-Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons in­ves­ti­ga­tion team to de­ter­mine who was be­hind the at­tack. The team is ex­pected to is­sue its next re­port some­time around Oc­to­ber. The Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons has sched­uled a Wed­nes­day meet­ing of its ex­ec­u­tive coun­cil to dis­cuss the mat­ter.

Syria joined the Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Pro­hi­bi­tion of Chem­i­cal Weapons in 2013 af­ter it was blamed for a deadly poi­son gas at­tack in a Da­m­as­cus sub­urb. As­sad’s gov­ern­ment then de­clared some 1,300 tons of chem­i­cal weapons and pre­cur­sor chem­i­cals that were sub­se­quently de­stroyed in an un­prece­dented in­ter­na­tional op­er­a­tion.

How­ever, the or­ga­ni­za­tion still has unan­swered ques­tions re­gard­ing Syria’s ini­tial dec­la­ra­tion and whether it has wholly dis­posed of its chem­i­cal weapons stock­pile.

The re­port’s in­ves­tiga­tive team has pre­vi­ously con­cluded that chlo­rine and sul­fur mus­tard — com­monly known as mus­tard gas — were used as weapons in Syria.

On Satur­day, a Syr­ian in­sur­gent group said Syr­ian gov­ern­ment troops used chlo­rine gas on its fighters dur­ing clashes near the cap­i­tal, Da­m­as­cus.

Fay­laq al-Rah­man group has been fight­ing gov­ern­ment and al­lied forces ad­vanc­ing on its strong­hold of Ain Terma, in eastern Ghouta sub­urb, for days. It was not im­me­di­ately pos­si­ble to cor­rob­o­rate the front line re­port of chlo­rine use. Ac­tivists re­ported the in­sur­gent group’s claim but no images or first­hand ac­counts were made avail­able. One ac­tivist said most of those in­jured were fighters. The Syr­ian mil­i­tary called re­ports of a chlo­rine at­tack in Ain Terma “base­less lies.”

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