AFP

Syria condemned at chemical warfare watchdog over sarin attacks 9 July 2020 - 16:47

Member countries of the global toxic arms watchdog voted overwhelmingly Thursday to take action on a probe that blamed Syria for nerve gas attacks for the first time, diplomats said.A report in April by a new investigations team at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found the Syrian air force used sarin gas and chlorine on the village of Lataminah in March 2017.Only Russia, China and Iran voted against Thursday's decision at the OPCW's 41-member executive council, which refers the matter to the annual meeting of all 193 member states in November.Syria could have its own voting rights suspended under the maximum punishment allowed by the Hague-based, UN-affiliated body if it fails to take action demanded by Thursday's resolution, diplomats said."It's a good result for international security and the fight against impunity," French ambassador Luis Vassy, whose country introduced the motion, told AFP after the vote."It's a success for this organisation, which is fulfilling its mandate."British ambassador Peter Wilson tweeted that it was a "resounding majority" -- 29 votes for, nine abstensions and three against -- and that countries had voted to "take action on the IIT (Investigation and Identification Team) report".- 'Rectify the situation' -The motion accuses Syria of breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention by possessing and using toxic arms.Member states called for Syria to "rectify the situation" and asked the head of the OPCW to report back on the matter, the French envoy said in a speech to the council this week.The resolution also referred the situation to the annual meeting of all member countries in November with "recommendations for measures which could be taken... in the event of lack of redress."The OPCW investigations team found that two Syrian fighter jets dropped bombs containing the nerve agent sarin on Lataminah and that a helicopter dropped a barrel bomb full of chlorine on the village.It was the first report by the team, set up after OPCW members in 2018 approved a Western-backed motion to allow the organisation to point the finger at perpetrators of attacks. Previously the watchdog could only say whether attacks had been carried out, and not who was responsible.OPCW chief Fernando Arias said earlier this week that the team is investigating further incidents in Syria.Syria and Russia have dismissed the probe's conclusions, alleged that chemical weapons attacks were faked, and accused Western powers of politicising the OPCW, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013.The regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has continued to deny the use of chemical weapons and insists it has handed over its weapons stockpiles under a 2013 agreement, prompted by a suspected sarin attack that killed 1,400 in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

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