1. UN to vote on extending Syria gas attacks probe

UN to vote on extending Syria gas attacks probe

The UN Security Council will vote today on extending for another year the mandate of a panel tasked with investigating chemical attacks in Syria and identifying those responsible, diplomats said.

By: | United Nations | Published: November 18, 2016 12:38 AM
During its year-long investigation, the panel established that Syrian government forces carried out three chlorine gas attacks on villages in 2014 and 2015. (Reuters) During its year-long investigation, the panel established that Syrian government forces carried out three chlorine gas attacks on villages in 2014 and 2015. (Reuters)

The UN Security Council will vote today on extending for another year the mandate of a panel tasked with investigating chemical attacks in Syria and identifying those responsible, diplomats said.

Following negotiations with Russia, the United States presented a draft resolution that renews the mandate of the joint United Nations-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) probe until November 2017.

During its year-long investigation, the panel established that Syrian government forces carried out three chlorine gas attacks on villages in 2014 and 2015.

It was the first time that an international probe pointed the finger of blame at President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, after years of denial from Damascus.

Despite the findings, Russia has dismissed the conclusions as unconvincing and said no sanctions should be imposed on Syria.

The panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), also found that the Islamic State group in Syria used mustard gas as a weapon in August 2015.

The draft resolution obtained by AFP tasks the JIM with identifying the “perpetrators, organizers, sponsors” of attacks including among groups associated with IS or with Al-Qaeda.

It states that all “individuals, entities, groups or governments responsible for any use of chemical weapons must be held accountable.”

Despite calls by Russia to extend the probe to Iraq, the draft resolution would limit the work of the JIM investigators to Syria.

Diplomats said the vote would take place at around 0000 GMT.

Calls from France and Britain for UN sanctions against Syria for its use of chemical weapons have yet to translate into action.

Paris and London have described the use of toxic gas in attacks against civilians as a war crime and pushed for sanctions to be imposed on those who carried out the attacks.

The panel’s latest report said government helicopters flying from two regime-controlled air bases dropped chlorine barrel bombs on the villages of Qmenas, Talmenes and Sarmin, in rebel-held Idlib province.

The panel identified the 253rd and 255th squadrons of the 63rd helicopter brigade, which flew from the Hama and Humaymim air bases, and the 628 squadron based in Humaymim as the perpetrators.

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