Thursday, 22 February, 2018

Tillerson: Russia 'bears responsibility' for suspected chemical attack in Syria

A man is seen at a medical center in Douma Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Syria A man is seen at a medical center in Douma Eastern Ghouta in Damascus Syria
Nellie Chapman | 24 January, 2018, 22:44

The latest attack comes as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to attend the launch of the International Partnership Against Impunity for Use of Chemical Weapons.

Tillerson was speaking during a meeting hosted by France on an initiative to target those responsible for chemical attacks, largely in Syria, after an global investigation into who is to blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria ended in November after Russian opposition. Though Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson an Order of Friendship medal for his work on an oil deal when he headed ExxonMobil, Tillerson has frequently berated Moscow for its support of separatists in Ukraine, its meddling in the 2016 US election, and now, in Syria.

"Let's be clear: Russia's unwillingness or inability to restrain the Assad regime is costing innocent Syrian lives", U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter on January 22.

Rescue workers in a Syrian rebel-held enclave east of Damascus accused government forces of using chlorine gas during bombardment of the area on Monday, and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 13 people had suffered suffocation.

In a report late previous year, JIM blamed the Syrian regime for a chemical attack in northern Syria's Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least 100 people.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, however, doubted Russia's intentions, noting that Russian Federation used its veto three times in 2017 to stop the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN for chemical weapons use in Syria. "We remain steadfast in pursuing accountability for those who use chemical weapons", she said.

"Although chemical weapons had disappeared for some 20 years, their reappearance in Iraq, Syria, and Asia, where they have fallen into the hands of state and nonstate actors, demands a resolute mobilization by the worldwide community", it said. Tillerson said the USA strategy would focus on diplomatic efforts.

The group plans to publish information about chemical attacks to name and shame perpetrators and eventually sanction them.

French Foreign Minister Le Drian on Tuesday joined Tillerson in expressing his concern about Turkey's military operation in Afrin. The United States has backed Syrian Kurds in the fight against the Islamic State, but Ankara believes they are allied with Turkish Kurds who are considered terrorists.

The Turkish operation is aimed at ousting from Afrin the Syrian Kurdish group that has controlled territory in northern Syria and proven effective in the USA -coalition-led fight against Islamic State militants.