UN Confirms Syrian Regime’s Responsibility for Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack

Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, Professor Paulo Pinheiro gestures during a press conference ahead of his mission on at the United Nations office in Geneva, September 30, 2011.

London, Geneva- UN investigators said on Friday they had evidence that the Syrian regime was responsible for a Sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed 87 people on April 4.

In the first UN report to formally refer to the regime’s responsibility, the UN commission of inquiry on the human rights situation in Syria announced on Wednesday that it had collected “a large amount of information” indicating that a Syrian aircraft was behind the horrific chemical attack on April 4.

“On April 4, as part of an airstrike… the Syrian air force used Sarin gas, killing more than 80 people, most of them women and children,” the report said.

“All the evidence can prove that there are enough objective reasons to believe that the air force dropped a Sarin gas bomb,” it added.

Wednesday’s report described the Khan Sheikhoun attack as a war crime and blamed the Syrian regime for at least 23 other chemical attacks, AFP reported. AP, for its part, quoted officials as saying that the regime was responsible for 20 of the 25 attacks since 2011.

“The lack of access to information did not prevent us from reaching facts or reasonable conclusions about what happened during the attack and who was behind it,” the committee’s chairman, Paulo Pinheiro, told a news conference.

UN investigators said they had documented a total of 33 chemical attacks to date, in their 14th report since 2011. They added that Syrian government forces carried out 27 attacks, including 7 between March 1 and July 7.

The investigators, who were prohibited by the Syrian authorities to access the territory to conduct their investigations, said they based their conclusions on photographs of rocket fragments, satellite images and eyewitness accounts.

They concluded that a Sukhoi 22 launcher, only owned by Syrian warplanes, carried out four strikes on Khan Sheikhoun at around 6:45 am on April 4.

While Damascus and its ally Moscow confirmed that chemicals had spread in the air after an air strike hit an arms depot producing chemical munitions and belonging to opposition factions, investigators rejected the suggestion, asserting that they had found no evidence to support the allegations.

Moscow Shrugs Off Washington’s ‘Solid Evidence’ on Syria Chemical Attack

Khan Sheikhoun, Syria – The United States is desperately preventing international expert visits to al-Shayrat Syrian airbase that it had attacked with cruise missiles in April, the Russian foreign ministry said Thursday.

The attack came after the US accused the Syrian regime of using the deadly sarin gas in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

Washington’s announcement that it has evidence over Bashar Assad regime’s use of chemical weapons in Khan Sheikhoun is baseless, the Russian foreign ministry’s nonproliferation department chief Mikhail Uliyanov was quoted as saying.

His comments came in response to claims made by CIA Director Mike Pompeo that the US possesses “solid evidence” on the Syrian army’s involvement in the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikoun that killed at least 87 people, including children.

On Wednesday, relatives of the victims gathered in a semi-circle at the reported site of the attack, holding up pictures of their loved ones — many of them toddlers. 

“The pain of separation has not left me for a single second — not me, nor any of those who lost a relative or loved one,” Abdulhamid Youssef, 28, told Agence France Presse.

His twin toddlers, his wife and 19 other relatives died on April 4. 

A heartbreaking picture of Youssef, shellshocked and holding the lifeless bodies of his children on the day of the attack, sparked worldwide outrage. 

“All I hope for is that my children are the last ones who will be killed. Pain is hard. Separation is hard. I hope that this is the conclusion of Syria’s sorrows,” he told AFP.

He visited his children’s graves as dusk fell, pulling out weeds from around their simple markers. 

The United Nations’ chemical weapons watchdog, the OPCW, concluded last month that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in Khan Sheikhoun.

An joint OPCW-UN team will now be responsible for determining who carried out the attack.

“I had hoped that the pain would disappear with the overthrow of Bashar al-Assad and an end to the violence in Syria,” Youssef told AFP.

Syrian Regime Ready to Protect Chemical Inspectors

Syria

London – Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad accused the US and Israel of ordering terrorists to forge all evidence in Khan Sheikhun, Idlib countryside, and fill up the hole created after bombing the area.

He accused Western governments of “create favorable conditions for their terrorist groups to use chemical weapons.”

Speaking at a press conference in Damascus on Monday, Meqdad reiterated that Syria destroyed all its chemical arsenal and stressed that his country will discuss counter-terrorism efforts during the coming Astana talks.

Although Syria has destroyed all its chemical arsenal, we still see attempts to attack the achievements made by the Syrian Arab Republic” Meqdad noted, before adding that “the enemies of Syria” have no other means to justify their intervention in Syria, “except this kind of cheap propaganda and cheap use of chemical weapons.”

Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) issued a report confirming that Sarin gas was used in April in Khan Sheikhun killing dozens, while western countries stated that the regime is responsible for the attack and asked for international inspectors to be sent to the town.

The Syrian government is prepared to protect international inspectors and provide all necessary conditions for the OPCW visit, indicated the deputy minister.

Meqdad underlined that the Syrian government had already destroyed all of its chemical weapons overseen by a joint mission led by the United Nations and OPCW.

Regarding the Astana peace talks, Meqdad stated that consultations are going on among all involved parties.

The deputy foreign minister emphasized that representatives from the Damascus government were talking with delegates from armed opposition groups only because Syrian government authorities were seeking to establish peace and stability in the country.

He added that the talks have their own agenda and the Syrian government deals with all efforts aiming at countering terrorism, whereas the UN is calling for negotiations to discuss Resolution 2254.

Russian-Iranian Bid for New Chemical Probe Rejected

The Hague- The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) rejected on Thursday, through a voting process, a Russian-Iranian proposal to form a new team to investigate the purported chemical attack against Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province on April 4.

The British delegation to the Organization said on its Twitter account: “The #OPCW Executive Council has overwhelmingly rejected the Russian and Iranian decision which attempted to undercut the FFM”, referring to the fact-finding mission.

The draft-resolution, which was submitted by Moscow and Tehran, and obtained by AFP, had called for a new investigation by OPCW “to establish whether chemical weapons were used in Khan Sheikhoun and how they were delivered to the site of the reported incident.”

The draft-resolution, however, overlooked the fact that the international body, based in The Hague, was already investigating the April 4 attack on Idlib province, which claimed the lives of 87 people, including many children.

It also called for investigators to visit the Shayrat airbase — bombed by the United States after the attack — to “verify allegations concerning the storage of chemical weapons” there.

The British delegation said on Twitter that the Russian move had “attempted to undercut” the OPCW’s existing fact-finding mission (FFM).”

“Needless to say – FFM investigation continues” and “the UK fully supports it,” it added.

Meanwhile, Russian Defense Ministry’s spokesperson Igor Konashenkov doubted the investigation, saying that western experts could not explain “how representatives of the White Helmets managed to work for such a long period of time and remain alive without gasmasks and special protection equipment.”

On Wednesday, OPCW said that sarin or a similar banned toxin was used in an attack in Idlib.

Reuters quoted the organization’s director, General Ahmet Uzumcu as saying that the results of the analysis “indicate that sarin or a sarin like substance was used”.

The finding was based on tests on bio-medical samples collected from three victims during their autopsies that were analyzed at two OPCW-designated laboratories, the OPCW said, according to Reuters.

Why Would Assad Use Sarin in a War He’s Winning? To Terrify Syrians.

A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib

BEIRUT — In the summer of 1925, rebels from the Syrian countryside mounted a guerrilla uprising against French colonial rule. The French retaliated by looting, burning and carrying out massacres in villages they suspected of supporting the rebels. That October, French authorities executed about 100 villagers outside Damascus. They displayed 16 of the mutilated corpses in the capital’s main public square; La Syrie, the government newspaper, called the row of bodies “a splendid hunting score.”

The French had no military reason to do this. Although they had underestimated the rebels at first, they were sure to defeat the vastly outgunned Syrian peasants in the end. The line of butchered bodies was there to send a message: This is the fate of rebels and those who support them.

This month, warplanes dropped a chemical agent — most likely sarin, according to doctors who treated the victims — on a town in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib called Khan Sheikhoun. As gruesome pictures emerged of men, women, and children convulsing and foaming at the mouth before dying, a simple question came to dominate the discussion online. From the far right of Mike Cernovich and Ron Paul to the anti-imperialist left, the question was: Why would Assad attack his own people when he was already winning the war? The Syrian regime had regained control of rebel-held east Aleppo and was in the midst of evacuating people from the country’s few remaining rebel enclaves. So why would Assad provoke international outrage with needless carnage, when he had much to lose and saw little concrete military gain?

“We still don’t know exactly what happened in Syria and who was responsible,” far-left writer and commentator Rania Khalek wrote on Twitter. Far-right conservative commentator and talk-radio host Michael Savage put it more succinctly: “Now what would Assad have gained by doing that? Is he stupid?”

In the increasingly influential world of conspiracy websites such as Infowars, this simple question — and the lack of definitive answers — has managed to sow doubt. As it spread online, the idea that Assad had nothing to gain from a chemical attack fed into a vortex of claims that the Khan Sheikhoun attack was a false flag, an elaborate hoax designed to justify US military intervention in Syria. President Trump’s missile strikes on April 6, and his administration’s abrupt about-face on the question of regime change, have only bolstered that theory.

What these American observers don’t grasp is that Assad doesn’t care about them: He plays less to the West than to his internal audience. The videos of children and first responders dying from sarin poisoning horrified people, and this is exactly what they were intended to do: They were meant to strike fear into rebels and send the message that the war was over.

History tells us that Assad had plenty to gain from using chemical weapons, US Tomahawk missiles notwithstanding. Since last year, the Syrian regime has been mopping up rebel-held enclaves around Damascus and offering their residents “cease-fire” deals — essentially negotiated surrenders. Each agreement is different, but most allow some people to evacuate to Idlib, the most significant remaining redoubt of rebel-held territory. The area around Khan Sheikhoun had seen sporadic fighting in the days before the sarin attack; for anyone contemplating a desperate last stand in Idlib, the message was clear: Don’t even think about it. You

The chemical attack came at a time when Assad’s military is overstretched. Chemical weapons are a cheap, effective force multiplier — a way to inflict terror despite limitations of manpower and supply. Their use instills fear in civilians and rebels alike. By discouraging them from joining the last pockets of resistance, this tactic saves Assad something more precious than money: time. The sooner he finishes cleaning up, the more money he saves, and the sooner he can start raking in the billions that international donors and investors have already pledged to “reconstruct” his shattered country.

So much for not having anything to gain. As for what Assad had to lose, that’s a more complicated question. He wouldn’t have been foolish enough to use chemical weapons after agreeing to give them up, according to one common line of thinking, because that would open him up to exactly the kind of military and diplomatic reprisals that the Trump administration is now threatening. If he did use chemical weapons inside Syria, the journalist and commentator Elijah Magnier wrote, “the consequences would be entirely to his disadvantage on all fronts, military, political, and international.”

But there’s a major hole in that argument: Assad has already used chemical weapons to kill his own people, and he has paid a negligible price. Why would he risk it again? Because his experience shows him that he’ll probably face only minimal consequences. In fact, a look at history — particularly Syrian history — shows that he has everything to gain.

If Assad did, in fact, miscalculate his advantage, it wouldn’t be the first time. He may have overplayed his hand, but he has done so before, like his father did, and has always survived. In 2005, when a massive truck bomb killed the former prime minister of Lebanon, Rafiq al-Hariri, a onetime ally who had turned against Assad, pundits predicted the Syrian president’s downfall. White House officials stepped up efforts to isolate him; then-French President Jacques Chirac lobbied for Hariri’s killers to be brought before an international tribunal; the United Nations launched an investigation of the killing. That investigation is still dragging on, all but forgotten. The same strategy worked in 2013: By agreeing to give up his chemical weapons and engaging in pointless “peace talks,” Assad bought himself enough time to let the memory of the attack recede.

(The Washington Post)

France to ‘Prove’ Assad Forces behind Syria ‘Chemical Attack’

France will produce proof “in a few days” that the regime of Bashar al-Assad launched a chemical strike on a Syrian village that killed 87 people earlier this month, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Wednesday.

“We have elements that will allow us to show that the regime knowingly used chemical weapons,” Ayrault said of the suspected chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun on April 4.

“In a few days I will be able to bring you the proof,” he told French television.

In an exclusive interview last week with AFP in Damascus, Assad said the suspected chemical attack was a “fabrication” to justify a US missile strike on Syrian forces.

“Definitely, 100 percent for us, it’s fabrication,” he said.

Western leaders including US President Donald Trump have accused Assad of being behind the attack in the rebel-held town, saying his forces used a chemical weapon during an air strike.

The suspected attack killed at least 87 people, including many children, and images of the dead and of suffering victims provoked global outrage.

The missile strike was the first direct US military action against Assad’s forces since the start of Syria’s civil war six years ago and precipitated a downward spiral in ties between Washington and Moscow.

Canada Extends Sanctions against More Syrian Regime Figures after Idlib Chemical Attack

Canada has announced new sanctions against the Syrian regime in response to the chemical attack that took place in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib.

In a statement issued today, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland has said 27 high-ranking officials are now subject to an asset freeze and dealings prohibition.

The new sanctions against Syria for the April 4 chemical weapons attack, include freezing assets and banning transactions with senior leaders of the regime of despot Bashar al-Assad.

Assad, his family, government and the Syrian military hierarchy have long been the targets of sanctions.

Freeland says the new sanctions against key officials are part of Canada’s continued efforts to pressure the Assad regime to stop the violence against innocent children, women and men.

The government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau extended the sanctions to 27 additional high-ranking regime officials, said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

“Last week’s chemical weapons attack in southern Idlib is a war crime and is unacceptable. Canada is working with its allies to end the war in Syria,” she said.

Assad in Deep Water!

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during an interview with AFP news agency in Damascus

In his latest interview with Agence France-Presse, Syria’s longtime despot Bashar al-Assad could not hide away how worn out and exhausted he had become. However, what is more important is not how wearied Assad looked but rather the content of that interview.

Assad showed that his strategy remained the same and that he still believed that lies were part and parcel of politics and diplomacy. Insincerity has been practiced by Assad ever since he took reins over Syria in year 2000.

Throughout Syria’s modern political history, whether it be when Iraq-Syria relations were suspended, when Lebanon’s prime minister Rafic Hariri was assassinated, or when leaving Arab-Syrian relations in disarray, Assad can be spotted being to some extent twisting the truth. The same goes for any statement he has given during the six-year fight against Syrians.

Assad said that the alleged poison gas attack blamed on his regime in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province was “100 percent fabrication” used to justify a US air strike.

“Our impression is that the West, mainly the United States, is hand-in-glove with the terrorists,” Assad said in the interview.

The Damascus-based miscreant continued casting doubts over his regime’s culpability, adding that if there was any substance to the allegations of the sarin gassing then “who committed the attack?” “No order was issued for any attack,” he argued.

“Syria’s military had given up all its chemical weapons in 2013 after an agreement made at the time, and would not have used them anyway,” Assad was quoted as saying.

Whoever believes any of Assad’s statements is most certainly delusional with no grasp of reality, or a regime ally who sees the Syria crisis a matter of life or death.

A question worth asking is why did Assad hand over his chemical arsenal in 2013, heeding Russian demands?

First of all, Assad’s regime definitely did not relinquish its chemical weapons– It is rather simple and clear, Assad used those weapons against the Syrians in 2013, and had nothing to stop him from using them again.

The bloodthirsty dictator’s lie has been exposed, sinking his number one backer, Russia –Assad’s international guarantor – an inch deeper into the Syria muddle.

It is obvious that Assad couldn’t care less about what the Russians think of him, they too believe that deceit comes with the job of politics. Russian President Vladimir Putin had said a few days earlier that he received information on provocative activity south of Damascus, and linked it to the US newfangled interference.

Assad rode Putin’s wave, using a derivative of his statements to promote his side of the story. What Assad failed to understand was that Putin was referring to recent attacks and not the Khan Sheikhoun US response with 59 tomahawk missiles targeting the same airbase from which the chemical attack was allegedly launched.

Matter of fact is that Assad not only is detached from reality, but also is in inescapable trouble. He now senses how dangerous the situation has become—out of breath, Assad runs back and forth to endorse and spread unbelievable lies. All it took was 59 Tomahawk missiles to leave Assad mind boggled in a catch 22.

China, US Attempt to Overcome Differences

China

Washington – China-US relations have witnessed “remarkable” progress since the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping to US President Donald Trump in Florida.

Several stances have reflected this “unexpected” approach during the past days: China abstaining from voting on the UN resolution draft that denounces the Syrian regime chemical attack and Trump hailing his Chinese counterpart and affirming that Beijing will exert “tremendous” efforts to help Washington in resolving the issue with North Korea.

Observers see that China’s abstaining from voting in favor of the draft – presented by Washington, London and Paris – and breaking the rule of joining the Russian veto at the UN Security Council to denounce the Syrian regime represented a slap to relations with Russia.

It seems that the US-Sino ties are being cemented at the expense of Moscow. Trump’s statement on Wednesday was evident proof of that.

“We had a very good bonding. I think we had a very good chemistry together. I think he wants to help us with North Korea,” Trump said in a Wednesday press conference.

Trump asserted that China took a big step after banning coal imports from North Korea. He also avoided criticizing China earlier for not putting pressure on North Korea, considering it an uneasy matter.

In another surprising stance towards China, the US president also refused to accuse Beijing of manipulating the currency.

Steven Weber, an international relations specialist from the University of California, Berkeley, said Trump’s volte-face towards China suggested pragmatism was kicking in.

“He’s obviously capable of understanding the numbers of a big real estate deal and so he is obviously capable of understanding projections about the number of jobs that would be lost in a significant trade spat,” Weber added.

UK Scientists Confirm Idlib Sarin Use, Weapons Experts in Turkey to Investigate

The British delegation at the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that samples taken from the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province last week tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.

The toxic gas attack in Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, which killed scores of children, prompted the United States to launch missile strikes on an air base in Shayrat that lies in central Syria’s Homs and widened a rift between Washington and Moscow, a close Syrian ally.

“UK scientists have analyzed samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun. These have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance,” the delegation said during a special session at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Earlier testing by Turkish authorities had also said the chemical used in the attack was sarin.

A fact finding mission from OPCW was sent to Turkey to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources told Reuters earlier Thursday.

The OPCW mission will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to assign blame. Its findings, expected in 3-4 weeks, will be passed to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation tasked with identifying individuals or institutions responsible for using chemical weapons.

Last week’s bombing in the town of Khan Sheikhoun near the Turkish border was the most lethal since a sarin attack on Aug. 21, 2013 killed hundreds in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

On the battlefield, US-backed forces fighting ISIS launched a new phase of their offensive on Thursday, a statement said, but they have not yet begun to attack the militant group’s stronghold of Raqqa city in an apparent delay in the operation.

The multi-phased campaign by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance made up of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting groups, was launched in November and aims ultimately to drive the jihadists from Raqqa, their de facto Syrian capital.

Officials in the Kurdish YPG militia, a powerful component of the SDF, said last month that assaults on Raqqa city itself would start in early or mid-April.

But the fourth phase of the campaign aims to clear ISIS pockets from the countryside north of the city, the SDF statement said. It did not say when the assault on Raqqa itself would begin.

“We aim to liberate dozens of villages in the Wadi Jallab area and the northern countryside … and clear the last obstacles in front of us to pave the way for the operation to liberate Raqqa city,” it said.

The SDF have closed in on Raqqa from the north, east and west.