Syria: Will Assad regime allow investigation in Idlib chemical attack?

Syria: Global powers "condemn" Assad's chemical massacre in Idlib
A man breathes through an oxygen mask as another one receives treatment, Ammar Abdullah,Reuter

Global powers proposed a resolution to condemn the latest chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib and start an investigation to determine the blamed parts, but Assad regime refused to be accused and set conditions for any international inquiry.

More than 60 civilians were killed in Syria in a new chemical attack carried out by Assad regime’s air force on the rebel-held Idlib province, doctors and monitoring groups have said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack caused many people to choke or faint, and some had foam coming from their mouths, citing medical sources who described the symptoms as possible signs of a gas attack. All the children were under the age of eight.

Opposition activists and the AFP news agency, citing one of its journalists on the scene, later said a rocket had slammed into a hospital where the victims were being treated, bringing rubble down on medics as they struggled to deal with victims.

The civil defense, also known as the White Helmets – a rescue service that operates in opposition areas of Syria – said jets struck one of its centers in the area and the nearby medical point.

The casualties have been distributed across a wide range of hospitals in Idlib, with some sent north towards Turkey.

“The total number of wounded is incredible, so far it’s over 200,” said Mohammad, a doctor at another hospital in Idlib.

The World Health Organization said there was reason to suspect a chemical attack, with some victims displaying symptoms suggesting exposure to “a category of chemicals that includes nerve agents”.

Medical charity Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said people it treated had symptoms consistent with nerve agents such as Sarin.

“MSF saw eight patients with symptoms – dilated pupils, muscle spasms, involuntary defecation – consistent with exposure to neuro-toxic agents such as Sarin,” the group said in a statement.

This attack is the deadliest chemical attack in Syria since sarin gas killed hundreds of civilians in the rebel-held Ghouta area near the capital in August 2013. Western states said the Assad regime was responsible for the 2013 attack but it denied the charge.

Russia, however, said that the attack’s story was a lie, adding that the poison gas belonged to rebels and had leaked from a weapons depot hit by Assad regime air force.

But Russia’s claims were rejected by the global powers, which said that it is clear that Assad regime is responsible for this attack.

New UN resolution

The United States, Britain, and France blamed Assad regime’s forces for the attack.

The draft resolution text says Syria’s government must provide an international investigation with flight plans and logs for Tuesday, the names of all helicopter squadron commanders and provide access to air bases where investigators believe attacks using chemicals may have been launched.

It asks U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report monthly on whether the Syrian government is cooperating with an international investigation and a fact-finding mission into chemical weapons use in Syria.

The proposed measure also requests the joint UN-OPCW investigative panel begin work immediately to identify the perpetrators of the attack.

The draft resolution “expresses its outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic, and expresses its determination that those responsible must be held accountable.”

The United States has warned it could take unilateral action if the United Nations fails to respond to the attack.

“When the United Nations consistently fails in its duty to act collectively, there are times in the life of states that we are compelled to take our own action,” US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said on Wednesday.

Haley lashed out at Moscow for failing to rein in Damascus, standing in the council chamber to hold up photographs of victims – one showing a young child lying lifeless, a mask covering his face.

“How many more children have to die before Russia cares?” she asked.

“If Russia has the influence in Syria that it claims to have, we need to see them use it,” she said. “We need to see them put an end to these horrific acts.”

Assad regime’s conditions

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry said the draft resolution was “anti-Syrian”, adding it “pre-empts the results of an investigation and just immediately designates the guilty”.

It said the deaths were caused when a Syrian air strike hit a “terrorist warehouse” used for making bombs containing “toxic substances”, and pledged to continue its military support for Assad.

Assad regime’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said Syria’s past experience with international inquiries had not been encouraging. The government would only decide on the idea once its concerns were addressed, he said.

Moualem also reiterated the government’s strong denial that it was behind the attack on Tuesday in Khan Sheikhoun in the northwestern province of Idlib, an area mostly controlled by rebel groups at the border with Turkey.

Moualem, speaking at a news conference in Damascus, said the Syrian government’s Russian allies had put forward ideas for the formation of a “non-politicized commission of inquiry”.

“It must not be politicized, it must leave from Damascus and not Turkey. We have numerous questions about this subject. When we are certain these questions are addressed with convincing answers, we will give you our response,” he said.

Moualem said a Syrian air strike had hit a store where the Nusra Front was storing chemical weapons. The Nusra Front is a jihadist group that now operates as part of an alliance called Tahrir al-Sham. He said the Nusra Front and Islamic State had both been storing chemical weapons in urban areas of Syria.

Moualem also said the first Syrian air strike carried out in the area took place at 11:30 a.m. (0830 GMT), some five hours after an air raid observer in Khan Sheikhoun reported that a lone Syrian jet had dropped at least four bombs there, including one that released a cloud of white smoke.

“I confirm to you once again that the Syrian Arab Army has not and will not use this type of weapon against our people and our children, and not even against the terrorists who kill our people,” Moualem said.

Moualem also said he saw a basis for an eventual “understanding” with Kurdish groups that have established control over wide areas of northern Syria, where they are fighting Islamic State with U.S. support.

He said the Kurds wanted to remain part of Syria. “I am confident we will reach an understanding with them after accomplishing the struggle against terrorism”, he said.

The Syrian crisis began as a peaceful demonstration against the injustice in Syria. Assad regime used to fire power and violence against the civilians and led to armed resistance. 450.000 Syrians lost their lives in the past five years according to UN estimates, and more than 12 million have lost their homes.