Russia holds up start of UN Syria chemical weapons probe

2nd September 2015, Comments 0 comments

Russia said Wednesday it was still considering the details of how to establish a UN team to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria, holding up final Security Council approval to launch the probe.

Last month, Russia -- a key ally of President Bashar al-Assad's regime -- joined the 14 other council members in adopting a resolution setting up the team, in a rare display of unity over how to address the deadly conflict.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week then informed the council of the specifics of his plan to set up the three-person panel.

The council was given five days to respond to the proposal but that deadline passed on Tuesday without action after Russia refused to sign off on Ban's blueprint for the mission.

"We are still working on it," Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.

"It's a fairly technical subject and we want to be absolutely sure."

The United States pushed for the UN chemical weapons probe after a wave of chlorine gas attacks that the West blames on Assad's forces.

Diplomats said that Moscow was seeking to put a stronger focus on alleged chemical weapons use by the Islamic State (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.

There have been recent reports that IS fighters used mustard gas in attacks last month against Kurdish fighters in Iraq and in the northern Syrian town of Marea, near Aleppo.

"What they are trying to do is draw attention to the fact that ISIL is using chemical weapons in Iraq," said a Security Council diplomat.

"There is no reason in our view to hold up a mechanism set up for Syria to take into account anything happening in Iraq," he said.

The panel will work with The Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to identify those behind the use of the banned deadly agents.

Once the proposal is approved, Ban will appoint experts to the panel, which could then begin its one-year mission. It will report its first findings to the council 90 days later.

Syria agreed to a US-Russia plan to dismantle its chemical weapons network and join an international treaty banning their use following a 2013 sarin attack on a Damascus suburb that sparked a global outcry.

But rights groups and Syrian doctors have since come forward with accounts of dozens of chlorine gas attacks that have in particular targeted Idlib province.

© 2015 AFP

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