Syria open to chemical attack investigation

Source: Xinhua| 2017-08-17 13:24:23|Editor: Zhou Xin

SYRIA-DAMASCUS-OFFICIAL-CHEMICAL ATTACK-REMARKS

Syria's deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad speaks during a press briefing in Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 16, 2017. The Syrian government will provide help for the international fact-finding mission tasked to probe chemical attack allegations in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Wednesday. (Xinhua/Ammar Safarjalani)

DAMASCUS, Aug. 17 (Xinhua) -- The Syrian government will provide help for the international fact-finding mission tasked to probe chemical attack allegations in Syria, Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said Wednesday.

A fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will come to Syria in the next few days, Mekdad said during a press briefing.

The mission will look into the accusations against government forces regarding the use of chemical weapons in April in the rebel-held northwestern town of Khan Sheikhun, which allegedly killed and wounded over 100 people.

Mekdad said the government will offer all facilitations to the mission until the last checkpoint of the Syrian army before the convoy enters rebel-held areas in Idlib province where Khan Sheikhun is located.

The United States and rebels accused the Syrian government forces of carrying out that chemical attack, while the Syrian government denied the charges and blamed the rebels.

"Syria welcomes the investigation and demands it and we hope that the discussions that will take place today in the UN Security Council will be precise without promoting the terrorists' propaganda," Mekdad said.

Meanwhile, Mekdad accused the rebels of staging the attack and contended that the United States and Britain supplied the terrorist groups with chemical weapons.

He said a series of evidence suggested that the Turkey-backed Ahrar al-Sham and the oppositional Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, had fabricated the attack.

Mekdad repeated the government line that the Syrian forces are in no possession of chemical weapons since the OPCW destroyed the chemical arsenal of Syria in late 2013 and early 2014.

He said the Western powers are using the chemical weapons attack as a pretext to blackmail Syria.

But in July, the OPCW said in a statement that the nerve agent sarin was used in the attack and was likely to have spread from a crater in a road where a projectile had hit.

The OPCW also found that hexamine, a known component of the Syrian government's stockpiles, was contained in samples taken from the scene and from the blood and urine of victims.

The OPCW said its mandate was solely to determine whether chemical weapons were used in the attack, as a UN investigative task force will attempt to determine who was responsible.

At the time, the Syrian foreign ministry said in a statement that the OPCW report was based on fabricated narratives, which "lacks credibility and is unacceptable."

Following the alleged chemical attack in April, the United States launched a missile attack on a Syrian airbase in central Syria, accusing the government of President Bashar al-Assad of carrying out the chemical attack.

Mekdad said in his Wednesday remarks that the United States carried out the attack on Sheirat airbase without waiting for any investigation.

The Khan Sheikhun attack was not the first reported in Syria, as chemical attacks were said to have taken place in several areas in Syria in the past years, with the government and the rebels trading accusations.

As many as 1,400 people were killed when several opposition-controlled areas in the suburbs around Damascus were struck by rockets containing chemical agent sarin on Aug. 21, 2013. Both the opposition and the government traded accusations.

In the same year, a chemical attack hit the then government-controlled town of Khan al-Asal in the countryside of Aleppo, in which several Syrian soldiers and civilians were either killed or suffered from suffocation.

The government accused the rebels, who denied the accusation.

In October 2013, OPCW officials arrived in Syria to monitor the dismantlement of the Syrian chemical weapons arsenal, after Damascus officially joined the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons Convention.

The OPCW later said that the government made its chemical weapon production facilities inoperable.

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KEY WORDS: chemical attack
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