Pompeo Warns Russia, China to Heed Sanctions Against North Korea

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MATTHEW LEE / The Associated Press.

SINGAPORE — U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russia, China and other countries on Saturday against any violation of international sanctions on North Korea that could reduce pressure on the North to abandon its nuclear weapons. Pompeo’s comments came on the heels of a new United Nations report that found North Korea has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and is violating U.N. sanctions, including through illicit ship-to-ship transfers of oil.

Speaking on the sidelines of an Asian security forum in Singapore, Pompeo told reporters that the U.S. has new, credible reports that Russia is violating U.N. sanctions by allowing joint ventures with North Korean companies and issuing new permits for North Korean guest workers. He said Washington would take “very seriously” any violations, and called for them to be roundly condemned and reversed.

“If these reports prove accurate, and we have every reason to believe that they are, that would be in violation,” Pompeo said, noting that the U.N. Security Council had voted unanimously in favor of the sanctions. “I want to remind every nation that has supported these resolutions that this is a serious issue and something we will discuss with Moscow.”

“We expect the Russians and all countries to abide to the U.N. Security Council resolutions and enforce sanctions on North Korea,” he said. “Any violation that detracts from the world’s goal of finally, fully denuclearizing North Korea would be something that America would take very seriously.”

Later Saturday, during a group photo of the ASEAN Regional Forum ministerial meeting, Pompeo went to greet North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho. They shook hands and briefly exchanged smiles and a few words. Pompeo then went back to his place.

At the United Nations, a summary of a report by experts monitoring U.N. sanctions against North Korea was sent to the Security Council on Friday that said North Korea is continuing with both its nuclear and missile programs. And, in addition to the oil transfers, it said the North was violating sanctions by transferring coal at sea and flouting an arms embargo and financial sanctions.

Late Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley raised the alarm, saying that “talk is cheap.” ”Russia cannot support sanctions with their words in the Security Council only to violate them with their actions,” she said in a statement. She made the remarks as the U.S. asked the Security Council to add a North Korean bank executive, a North Korean company, a Chinese company and a Russian bank to the U.N. sanctions blacklist.

In his discussions with Southeast Asian officials in Singapore, Pompeo said he had implored them all to “strictly enforce all sanctions,” including an end to ship-to-ship transfers of oil for North Korea, and had been encouraged by the response.

Despite the warning to Russia, Pompeo said he remained optimistic that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will follow through on his pledge to President Donald Trump to denuclearize. But he said the timeline for the North’s full and final denuclearization remains a work in progress.

Earlier, in an interview with a Singapore’s Channel News Asia, Pompeo had said the pace for the dismantlement of the North’s nuclear weapons program would rest with Kim. “The ultimate timeline for denuclearization will be set by Chairman Kim, at least in part,” he said. “The decision is his.”

At the news conference, however, Pompeo appeared to step back from that comment, noting that the timeline is subject to negotiation between Washington and Pyongyang. He recalled that Kim had committed to denuclearization at the historic summit with Trump on June 12 in Singapore and that both sides “have been working since then to develop the process through which that will be achieved.”

“The process of achieving denuclearization of the Korean peninsula is one that I think we have all known will take some time,” Pompeo said, adding later: “I am optimistic that we will get this done in a timeline and the world will celebrate what the U.N. Security Council has demanded.”

Pompeo said on Friday that while there’s “still a ways to go,” the United States remains “confident” in North Korea’s commitment to denuclearize.

On Thursday, the White House announced that Trump had received a new letter from Kim and had responded quickly with a letter of his own. The correspondence came amid fresh concerns over Pyongyang’s commitment to denuclearization despite a rosy picture of progress painted by Trump.


Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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The Trump Administration Wants Nothing Less Than Palestine’s Destruction

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Jacob Sugarman.

Last month, as administration officials including Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner celebrated the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem, Israeli forces gunned down 62 Palestinian demonstrators in Gaza and injured 1,700 more. According to Reuters, the wounded were “spilling out” of the rooms in the Strip’s 13 medical facilities.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley subsequently hailed the Israeli government for exercising “restraint,” asking the body’s security council, “Who among us would accept this type of activity on your border?” She would not listen to Palestine’s reply, exiting the room before its envoy could speak.

For Haaretz contributor Odeh Bisharat, her actions—like Ivanka and Jared’s before her—are part of a larger administration plot to complete the annihilation of the Palestinian people. Call it “the ultimate crime” or “the ultimate destruction.”

“The first blow was in 1948, when [they] were broken into four parts: those inside Israel, in the West Bank in Gaza; and in refugee camps around the world,” Bisharat writes. “Now the mission is not just to smash them, but to grind the Palestinian people up finely, grain by grain, each individual separated from his brethren—the West Bank separately, Gaza separately, and then within the West Bank, Ramallah separately and Jenin separately, while the abroad the Palestinians in Jordan will be separated from the Palestinians in Lebanon.”

While he acknowledges that there are leftists in Israel invested in a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict, Bisharat nonetheless lays the blame squarely on Zionist parties, 90 percent of whom he estimates either actively support the brutality of Likud or are complicit in their silence.

“Indeed, once again the Israeli leadership is choosing the dark side, turning its back on the peoples of the region,” he continues. “In 1956 David Ben-Gurion hooked up with the dying empires of France and Britain against the Egyptians, whose leader dared to announce the nationalization of the Suez Canal. Later Israel upheld the Shah of Iran’s reign of terror against the Iranian people, a regime that led, because of its brutality, to an even more brutal regime.”

Israel’s current alliances bear the unmistakable rhyme of history, Bisharat argues. While Prince Mohammed bin Salman feints at a more modern, liberal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, he has executed a brutal crackdown on political dissent, purging rival powers, imprisoning women’s rights activists and denying his country’s role in promulgating Wahhabist violence. Both bin Salman and Egyptian dictator Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi are working hand in hand with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and they all have the backing of the Trump administration.

“It seems that the only stumbling blocks on the way to implementing this plan are the Palestinians, this time headed by the Palestinian leadership, and the progressive Arab and Jewish public in Israel, which includes many Zionists whose Zionism is different from that of [far-right Likudniks] Yair Lapid and Avi Gabbay,” Bisharat concludes. “And I promise you that in a few years’ time, the respected Prof. Shlomo Avineri will write that this time the Palestinians also missed an opportunity. The opportunity to be crushed.”

Read Bisharat’s column in its entirety at Haaretz.

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The American March to Inequality: Why the U.N. Alston Report Alarms the Trump Plutocrats

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Juan Cole / Informed Comment.

It is no surprise that flacks for the plutocrats in charge of the US like Nikki Haley are squawking about the report on American poverty just issued by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston. It throws loads of light on how unequal a society America is, how it is marching rapidly toward even greater, Third World levels of inequality, and how peculiar the US is, as a land of rapacious robber barons and 40 million completely marginalized poor.

The hardest thing for journalism to get right is big structural changes. I was a working journalist in my youth, and when I was blogging events like the Iraq War and the Arab Spring, I was often using journalistic techniques. Your time scale is the past few hours, your focus on the big political players. Personality matters. Details matter. You are zeroed in on trees. Only on a sabbatical (rare enough) do most journalists get a chance to step back and consider the forest. Academics, in contrast, are so consumed by really big forests that they often forget that there are any trees. Hitting the balance is the essence of good social reportage.

Big social statistics are hard to envision. That in a country like the US, with some 320 million people and an $18 trillion annual gross domestic product, the social statistics could be rapidly changing is also hard to fathom.

They are changing, the UN says, decidedly for the worse for tens of millions of people.

*The GOP tax massacre of earlier this year will transfer over time trillions of new dollars to the already obscenely wealthy, and result in diminished government services and a much smaller safety net for the rest of us. It was a tax cut, almost all of the benefits of which, went to one-tenth of one percent of the population. It will make them even richer, adding billions to their billions, and make the rest of us poorer. This is a structural change in US society with massive implications.

Already, the top 0.1% holds as much of the country’s wealth as the bottom 90% (i.e. almost everyone reading these words).

H/t Business Insider

Alston writes,

    • *US infant mortality rates in 2013 were the highest in the developed world.

*Americans can expect to live shorter and sicker lives, compared to people living in any other rich democracy, and the “health gap” between the U.S. and its peer countries continues to grow.

*U.S. inequality levels are far higher than those in most European countries

*Neglected tropical diseases, including Zika, are increasingly common in the USA. It has been estimated that 12 million Americans live with a neglected parasitic infection. A 2017 report documents the prevalence of hookworm in Lowndes County, Alabama.

*The US has the highest prevalence of obesity in the developed world.

*In terms of access to water and sanitation the US ranks 36th in the world.

*America has the highest incarceration rate in the world, ahead of Turkmenistan, El Salvador, Cuba, Thailand and the Russian Federation. Its rate is nearly 5 times the OECD average.

*The youth poverty rate in the United States is the highest across the OECD with one quarter of youth living in poverty compared to less than 14% across the OECD.

The UN report violates the basic tenet of the propaganda of our robber barons, which is that things are getting better. They are getting worse, and dramatically so.

One reason Nikki Haley, current US ambassador to a UN she doesn’t believe in, and the former governor of South Carolina ,is in such high dudgeon about the UN report is that she exemplifies everything wrong with America. She ran a state with one of the lowest life expectancies in the US and one of the highest infant mortality rates.

And the reason South Carolina elites cannot believe these statistics and are so embarrassed by them is that they are deeply about race and class. African-American health statistics in South Carolina are in third-world territory because the state is run as a caste system. Haley, as an Indian-American, managed to make the leap into whiteness by rendering her Sikhism ambiguous and often talking like an Evangelical, and by marrying into the dominant caste.

The Trump tax massacre was intended to take even more from African-Americans and Latinos and other minorities and transfer it to the largely English, Scottish, German and other Northern European business elite (the wealth of some of whom began accumulating in the nineteenth century through slavery or criminal activities).

I wrote about all this just a few years ago:



household net worth of whites: $110,000


Average household net worth of African-Americans: $5000

The wealth gap between white and African-American families tripled between 1980 and 2009, according to the Century Foundation:

1 in every 15 African American men are incarcerated in comparison to 1 in every 106 white men.

“If current trends continue, one of every three black American males born today can expect to go to prison in his lifetime, as can one of every six Latino males—compared to one of every seventeen white males.”

So if the UN report were taken seriously, the US would require a social revolution to even approach the normality of a France or Germany, where a handful of billionaires don’t take food out of the mouth of hungry babies.

And that is why the shock troops of Trumpism are so eager to discredit it.

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U.S. Leaving U.N.’s Human Rights Council, Cites Anti-Israel Bias

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MATTHEW LEE and JOSH LEDERMAN / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON  — The United States is leaving the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, which Ambassador Nikki Haley called “an organization that is not worthy of its name.” It’s the latest withdrawal by the Trump administration from an international institution.

Haley said Tuesday the U.S. had given the human rights body “opportunity after opportunity” to make changes. She lambasted the council for “its chronic bias against Israel” and lamented the fact that its membership includes accused human rights abusers such as China, Cuba, Venezuela and Congo.

“We take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights,” Haley said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, appearing alongside Haley at the State Department, said there was no doubt that the council once had a “noble vision.”

But today we need to be honest,” Pompeo said. “The Human Rights Council is a poor defender of human rights.”

The announcement came just a day after the U.N. human rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, denounced the Trump administration for separating migrant children from their parents. But Haley cited longstanding U.S. complaints that the 47-member council is biased against Israel. She had been threatening the pull-out since last year unless the council made changes advocated by the U.S.

“Regrettably, it is now clear that our call for reform was not heeded,” Haley said.

Still, she suggested the decision need not be permanent, adding that if the council did adopt reforms, “we would be happy to rejoin it.” She said the withdrawal notwithstanding, the U.S. would continue to defend human rights at the United Nations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office called the U.S. decision “courageous,” calling it “an unequivocal statement that enough is enough.”

The move extends a broader Trump administration pattern of stepping back from international agreements and forums under the president’s “America First” policy. Although numerous officials have said repeatedly that “America First does not mean America Alone,” the administration has retreated from multiple multilateral accords and consensuses since it took office.

Since January 2017, it has announced its withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, left the U.N. educational and cultural organization and pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. Other contentious moves have included slapping tariffs on steel and aluminum against key trading partners, recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv.

Opposition to the decision from human rights advocates was swift. A group of 12 organizations including Save the Children, Freedom House and the United Nations Association-USA said there were “legitimate concerns” about the council’s shortcomings but that none of them warranted a U.S. exit.

“This decision is counterproductive to American national security and foreign policy interests and will make it more difficult to advance human rights priorities and aid victims of abuse around the world,” the organizations said in a joint statement.

Added Kenneth Roth, the executive director of Human Rights Watch: “All Trump seems to care about is defending Israel.”

On Twitter, al-Hussein, the U.N. human rights chief, said it was “Disappointing, if not really surprising, news. Given the state of #HumanRights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back.”

And the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank close to the Trump administration, defended the move, calling the council “notably incurious about the human rights situations in some of the world’s most oppressive countries.” Brett Schaefer, a senior fellow, pointed out that Trump could have withdrawn immediately after taking office but instead gave the council 18 months to make changes.

Haley has been the driving force behind withdrawing from the human rights body, unprecedented in the 12-year history of the council. No country has ever dropped out voluntarily. Libya was kicked out seven years ago.

The move could reinforce the perception that the Trump administration is seeking to advance Israel’s agenda on the world stage, just as it prepares to unveil its long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan despite Palestinian outrage over the embassy relocation. Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, is visiting the Middle East this week as the White House works to lay the groundwork for unveiling the plan.

Israel is the only country in the world whose rights record comes up for discussion at every council session, under “Item 7” on the agenda. Item 7 on “Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories” has been part of the council’s regular business almost as long as it has existed.

The United States’ current term on the council ends next year. Although the U.S. could have remained a non-voting observer on the council, a U.S. official said it was a “complete withdrawal” and that the United States was resigning its seat “effective immediately.” The official wasn’t authorized to comment publicly and insisted on anonymity.

That means the council will be left without one of its traditional defenders of human rights. In recent months, the United States has participated in attempts to pinpoint rights violations in places like South Sudan, Congo and Cambodia.

The U.S. pullout was bound to have ripple effects for at least two countries at the council: China and Israel. The U.S., as at other U.N. organizations, is Israel’s biggest defender. At the rights council, the United States has recently been the most unabashed critic of rights abuses in China — whose growing economic and diplomatic clout has chastened some other would-be critics, rights advocates say.

There are 47 countries in the Human Rights Council, elected by the U.N.’s General Assembly with a specific number of seats allocated for each region of the globe. Members serve for three-year terms and can serve only two terms in a row.

The United States has opted to stay out of the Human Rights Council before: The George W. Bush administration opted against seeking membership when the council was created in 2006. The U.S. joined the body only in 2009 under President Barack Obama.


Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten in Geneva and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.

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Rights Group: Israeli Lethal Force in Gaza May Be War Crime

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by ILAN BEN ZION / The Associated Press.

JERUSALEM — Human Rights Watch said Wednesday that Israel’s use of lethal force against Palestinian demonstrators in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks may constitute war crimes.

The statement was issued Wednesday ahead of an emergency U.N. General Assembly meeting to vote on a resolution condemning Israel’s “excessive use of force.” A similar Security Council resolution was vetoed earlier this month by the United States for being “fundamentally imbalanced” and “grossly one-sided,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley said.

Palestinians have held near-weekly protests since March 30, calling for a “right of return” to ancestral homes now in Israel. At least 120 Palestinians have been killed and more than 3,800 wounded by Israeli fire in protests along the border. The overwhelming majority of the dead and wounded have been unarmed, according to Gaza health officials.

The Israeli military has said its soldiers adhere to the rules of engagement to defend Israeli civilians and security infrastructure from attacks cloaked by the protests.

Human Rights Watch contended in its statement that the mostly unarmed protesters didn’t pose an imminent threat to Israeli troops or civilians, and therefore the use of live fire suggests a violation of international law. The organization said eyewitnesses recounted Palestinians were shot from a great distance from the fence, and others who “had not thrown stones or otherwise tried to harm Israeli soldiers” were shot from a closer range.

Israel has been accused of committing war crimes in its three wars in the Gaza Strip in the last decade. Last month the Palestinians urged the International Criminal Court in The Hague to launch an investigation into Israeli policies and actions in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza Strip, accusing Israel of systemic crimes.

Israel has called the Palestinian move “legally invalid.” Israel is not a member of the ICC and argues the court does not have jurisdiction.

The ICC has conducted a preliminary investigation since 2015 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories, including West Bank settlement construction and war crimes by Israel and Hamas in the 2014 war in Gaza.

Human Rights Watch’s Mideast director called on the international community to “impose real costs for such blatant disregard for Palestinian lives.”

“The U.N. Human Rights Council inquiry should identify and call for sanctions against officials implicated in ongoing serious human rights violations,” Sarah Leah Whitson said.

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A Shocking Lack of Intelligence in Our Missile Strike on Syria

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Scott Ritter.

It was a scene that has played out before the American public on multiple occasions in recent history: Representatives of the American defense establishment walked out onto a stage backed by light-blue drapery sporting an oval-shaped sign containing the words “Pentagon” and, below it in smaller letters: “Washington,” along with an image of the unique five-sided building of the same name. With an American flag standing in the background, and standing on a wooden podium emblazoned with the seal of the Department of Defense, Secretary of Defense James Mattis, a former Marine general, accompanied by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Joseph Dunford, a current Marine general, briefed the American public on the details surrounding a U.S.-led missile attack against targets inside Syria, carried out with the United Kingdom and France, that had transpired the night of April 13, 2018, a little more than an hour before Mattis and Dunford took the stage at 10 p.m. (making the timing of the attack around 4 a.m. on April 14, Syrian time).

“As the world knows,” Mattis announced, “the Syrian people have suffered terribly under the prolonged brutality of the Assad regime. On April 7, the regime decided to again defy the norms of civilized people, showing callous disregard for international law by using chemical weapons to murder women, children and other innocents. We and our allies find these atrocities inexcusable. As our commander in chief, the president has the authority under Article II of the Constitution to use military force overseas to defend important United States national interests. The United States has vital national interests in averting a worsening catastrophe in Syria, and specifically deterring the use and proliferation of chemical weapons.”

Mattis continued: “Earlier today, President Trump directed the U.S. military to conduct operations in consonance with our allies to destroy the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons research development and production capability. Tonight, France, the United Kingdom and the United States took decisive action to strike the Syrian chemical weapons infrastructure.”

Gen. Dunford spelled out the scope of this attack. “The targets that were struck and destroyed were specifically associated with the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons program … [t]he first target was a scientific research center located in the greater Damascus area. This military facility was a Syrian center for the research, development, production and testing of chemical and biological warfare technology. The second target was a chemical weapons storage facility west of Homs. We assessed that this was the primary location of Syrian sarin and precursor production equipment. The third target, which was in the vicinity of the second target, contained both a chemical weapons equipment storage facility and an important command post.”

The specificity of language used by Secretary Mattis and Gen. Dunford, declaring Syria to have a chemical weapons program inclusive of a research facility where chemical weapons were produced, a storage facility containing sarin nerve agent precursor production equipment and another that contained chemical weapons equipment and an associated command post, implied a degree of certainty backed by intelligence information sufficient to justify the use of American and allied military force.

Secretary Mattis asserted as much. “I am confident,” he said, “the Syrian regime conducted a chemical attack on innocent people in this last week, yes. Absolutely confident of it. And we have the intelligence level of confidence that we needed to conduct the attack.” When pressed for details about the actual chemical used, Mattis noted, “We are very much aware of one of the agents. There may have been more than one agent used. We are not clear on that yet. We know at least one chemical agent was used.” Later he clarified this statement, declaring, “We’re very confident that chlorine was used. We are not ruling out sarin right now.”

Mattis was asked about a statement he had made the previous day, April 12, when he appeared before the House Armed Services Committee. Then, Mattis put forward a theory that chlorine gas or sarin nerve agent—or a combination of the two—had been used by the Syrian government. He noted, however, that at the time of his presentation, the U.S. and its allies “[didn’t] have evidence” that the Syrian regime carried out the attack on April 7 in the Damascus suburb of Douma. “I believe there was a chemical attack,” Mattis said, “and we’re looking for the evidence.” In response, Mattis noted that his confidence level that the Syrian regime had carried out a chemical attack had increased sometime after he had made that statement.

The next day, April 14, Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs Dana W. White (a former Fox News publicist and professional staff member for the Senate Armed Services Committee as well as a foreign policy adviser to John McCain during his 2008 presidential campaign), together with Director of the Joint Staff Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. (a 1979 graduate of The Citadel who commanded Marines in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan before being promoted to flag rank and assuming various joint service staff assignments), gave a second briefing where more details about the attack were provided.

In terms of the specificity of the intelligence used to justify the attack, White indicated that she had nothing to add to the statement made by Secretary Mattis the previous night. However, in answering questions, Lt. Gen. McKenzie noted that the U.S. military assessed “that there were probably some chemical and nerve agents in that target.” He also noted that by striking the three targets in question “We are confident that we’ve significantly degraded his [Assad’s] ability to ever use chemical weapons again.” White seconded this assessment. “The strikes went to the very heart of the enterprise, to the research, to development, to storage. So we are very confident that we have significantly crippled Assad’s ability to produce these weapons,” she said.

According to the information contained in these two briefings, the United States had a high degree of confidence in the fact that Syria continued to retain a viable chemical weapons capability despite the elimination of such weapons having been certified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), created under the auspices of the United Nations to implement the provisions of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), an international treaty banning the production, retention and use of chemical weapons (keeping in mind that the Syrians have been accused of using sarin nerve agent, a Schedule 1 chemical, the category of which includes the agent itself, as well as its unique-use precursors).

Moreover, the implication of the statements made by Secretary Mattis, Gen. Dunford, Lt. Gen. McKenzie and Dana White was that the United States possessed intelligence information of such specificity as to permit military planners to assess the level of force necessary to ensure that specific quantities of nerve agent assessed as being present in a facility inside the city of Damascus would be destroyed by the weapons employed. The same holds true for the two chemical storage facilities located near Homs, especially the one assessed as containing sarin nerve agent and its precursors. Moreover, the statements implied that United States was in possession of intelligence information of such quality to permit assessments pertaining to having “crippled” Syria’s ability to produce chemical weapons.

There is one major problem with the information provided by these briefings: It is exclusively drawn from assessments, not fact. When one examines the basis for these assessments, it becomes clear that there was a shocking lack of intelligence available to sustain the predicate used to justify the U.S.-led attack on Syria—that the Syrian government possessed, let alone used, chemical weapons in the city of Douma on April 7.

There is a dearth of information about the specific intelligence information used by the United States, France or the United Kingdom to back up their collective claim that Syria used chemical weapons against Douma on April 7. According to The Guardian, intelligence agencies from all three countries “studied videos” from Douma. American officials in particular noted similarities between the Douma images and those from two previously reported sarin incidents in Syria—East Ghouta, in August 2013, and Khan Shaykhun, in April 2017. The first incident set in motion the events that led to Syria signing the CWC and acceding to the supervised elimination of its chemical weapons capabilities; the second has been used to sustain the premise that Syria had retained, in contravention of its obligations under the CWC, a sarin nerve agent capability. This latter finding underpins the totality of the assessments made in support of the American case for attacking Syria: If Syria possesses sarin nerve agent (as the events in Khan Shaykhun would suggest), then logic dictates that there would be an associated research and development facility complete with on-hand stocks of nerve agent (target one), and chemical weapons storage facilities containing sarin nerve agent and precursors as well as associated manufacturing equipment (targets two and three). No actual proof was required, or offered, to sustain these assessments.

Two issues flow from this line of thinking. First, the Khan Shaykhun incident is not without significant controversy, with its conclusions questioned by numerous experts, journalists and governments. Second, even if one accepts the findings that sarin nerve agent was used in Khan Shaykhun, that fact does not automatically sustain any allegations of sarin use in Douma, especially when there is no evidence to sustain that allegation.

One of the major problems confronting those who contend that both sarin and chlorine were used in the alleged Douma incident is the absolute incompatibility of the two substances. A U.S. Army study from the 1950s found that chlorine serves as a catalyst that promotes the decomposition of sarin nerve agent, meaning that if both substances were either combined or released together, the sarin would rapidly decompose. This reality seemed to escape American officials evaluating the Douma incident, who postulated to The Guardian that chlorine and sarin were stored separately in the same cylinder, ignoring how this would be achieved in a gas cylinder of the type alleged to have been used in Douma.

Only after the U.S.-French-U.K. attack of April 13 did one of the nations involved—in this case, France—provide an assessment outlining the intelligence case behind the Douma allegations. “On the intelligence collected by our services,” the report noted, “and in the absence to date of chemical samples analyzed by our own laboratories, France considers, beyond possible doubt, a chemical attack was carried out against civilians at Douma.” The basis of this conclusion was similar to that which underpinned the American assessment: “After examining the videos and images of victims published online, they (intelligence services) were able to conclude with a high degree of confidence that the vast majority are recent and not fabricated.” Without providing any further information or analysis, the French report concluded that “[r]eliable intelligence indicates that Syrian military officials have coordinated what appears to be the use of chemical weapons containing chlorine on Douma, on April 7.”

In short, the French case for war—and by extension, that of its allies, the United States and the United Kingdom—rested solely on “open source” information provided by opponents of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad, for whom military intervention by the West was a long-standing objective. The illogic behind the Syrian government employing chemical weapons in a manner that would invite Western military intervention at a time when the battle for Douma was all but over seems never to have been probed in a meaningful fashion by the intelligence agencies of the United States, the United Kingdom—or France.

Ground Zero

As far as “objective news sources” go, the Abkhazian Network News Agency, or ANNA, would not logically top any list. Based out the breakaway Georgian territory of Abkhazia, the ANNA is an unabashed pro-Russian online news outlet known for its gritty front-line reporting from inside Syria, where its reporters, at great risk (many have been wounded while doing their jobs), accompany the Syrian army on combat operations against Islamist militants. Their reporting combines hand-held cameras, running alongside infantry and monitoring tactical command posts, GoPro-type cameras attached to tank turrets and cameras mounted on unmanned aerial vehicles hovering overhead, to provide a full-spectrum look at the ground war inside Syria unmatched by any other news source.

On April 5, 2018, the Syrian army’s vaunted Tiger Force, an elite assault unit of around 1,000 men, captured the village of al-Rayyan, on the western approaches to Douma, from fighters of the Army of Islam, a pro-Saudi jihadist group that had occupied Douma since 2013. The advance of the Tiger Force was the latest in a series of offensives carried out by Syria against rebel-held positions in the district of Eastern Ghouta, in which the city of Douma was located, since the beginning of the year. In March 2018 the Syrian army managed to break the rebel-held territory into three separate pockets, prompting thousands of fighters from groups other than the Army of Islam to agree to surrender their heavy weapons and evacuate Eastern Ghouta, together with their families to the northern Syrian town of Jarablus, adjacent to the Turkish border, which was under the control of the Turkish military and opposition forces belonging to the Free Syrian Army.

Only the area in and around Douma, under the control of the Army of Islam and the remnants of other defeated militant groups, held out. By early April, however, the relentless attacks by the Syrian army pushed even the hardened fighters of the Army of Islam to falter, and negotiations were opened with the Russians, leading to a series of temporary humanitarian cease-fires that quickly broke down amid mutual accusations of violations. The capture of al-Rayyan by the Tiger Force took place after the collapse of one such cease-fire and led to the resumption of negotiations between the Syrian government and the Army of Islam for the evacuation of the Islamists and their families from Douma. Earlier evacuations from Douma, involving thousands of militants and their families, had been conducted by the Russian military, which provided security. The negotiations, however, broke down as factions within the Army of Islam balked at having to leave Douma without their weapons.

On the morning of April 7, the Syrian army, supported by the Syrian and Russian air forces, renewed its assault on Douma. ANNA reporters accompanied Syrian troops from the Tiger Force as they overwhelmed the defenses of the Army of Islam, capturing a swath of open ground known as the Douma Farms, penetrating nearly three kilometers into the Army of Islam positions along a 10-kilometer front. The Tiger Force offensive represented the death knell of the Army of Islam; denied the buffer provided by the Douma Farms, the Army of Islam was trapped in the kind of urban terrain the Tiger Force thrived in, having perfected its house-to-house fighting tactics during the battle for Aleppo in 2017. Faced with inevitable defeat, the Army of Islam reached out to the Russians to renew negotiations that would lead to surrendering Douma to Syrian government control.

As the Army of Islam defenses crumbled in the face of the Tiger Force offensive, and the inevitability of defeat settled in among the leadership of the Army of Islam, a coordinated series of messages from various humanitarian organizations with a long history of opposition to the regime of Bashar Assad began to come out from within Douma about a series of chemical weapons attacks by the Syrian air force against the civilian population of Douma.

Among the first, a tweet from the Ghouta Media Center, a well-known outlet for anti-Assad information, was illustrative of what was to follow: “A new #Chemical massacre in #Syria was committed, this time in #Douma_city, 75 civilians were suffocated till death & 1000 suffocation cases, by a barrel was dropped by #Assad helicopters around 9:00pm contains the toxic #Sarin gas, some activists reached bodies in some basements.” Another group, known as the Douma Revolution, published a series of videos on its Facebook page on April 7 that would later be shown repeatedly on Western television channels as evidence of a chemical weapons attack.

By the morning of April 8, news of the alleged chemical weapons attack reached the front lines, where they were dismissed by the officers and men of the Tiger Force. “[Militants] claim we shelled them with chemical weapons,” a senior Tiger Force officer told ANNA reporters during a lull in the fighting on the morning of April 8, as the initial reports of a chemical attack in Douma became public, “but that is a lie, because at the same time we were advancing forward, not one of our soldiers has a gas mask.” Another Tiger Force officer made a similar argument. “We have no protection against the chemical weapons,” he told ANNA. “Those dogs used the chemical weapons themselves and said we did it. If we had that kind of weapon, we would have to carry gas masks. Go to the front and see for yourselves—what are you going to see? We are all here preparing to advance.” A third Tiger Force officer emphasized this point. “We do not have chemical weapons. We breathe the same air. If we had used chemical weapons, we would have suffered ourselves. There are only 20 meters between us. This is just a publicity stunt.”

The “publicity stunt,” however, had served its purpose. By April 8, the <a href=”https://www.whitehelmets.org/en/”>White Helmets</a>, the nongovernmental organization <a href=”https://www.theatlantic.com/news/archive/2016/09/syria-white-helmets/502073/ “>lionized by many</a> as a vaunted search-and-rescue organization credited with saving thousands of lives in the face of Syrian and Russian aerial bombardment, and <a href=”https://www.truthdig.com/articles/the-white-helmets-and-the-inherent-contradiction-of-americas-syria-policy/”>demonized by others</a> as a vehicle for generating anti-regime propaganda and promoting Western military intervention to topple Assad, and the <a href=”https://www.sams-usa.net/”>Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS)</a>, another NGO possessing a <a href=”https://www.truthdig.com/articles/how-the-syrian-american-medical-society-is-selling-regime-change-and-driving-the-u-s-to-war/”>similarly controversial pedigree</a>, had published a <a href=”https://twitter.com/RaedAlSaleh3/status/983018134432083968″>joint statement on the Douma attack</a>, the contents of which would be repeated verbatim (and seemingly without question) by Western media outlets and government agencies.

<blockquote>On Saturday, 07/04/2019 at 7:45 PM local time, amidst continuous bombardment of residential neighborhoods in the city of Douma, more than 500 cases—the majority of whom are women and children—were brought to local medical centers with symptoms indicative of exposure to a chemical agent. Patients have shown signs of respiratory distress, central cyanosis, excessive oral foaming, corneal burns, and the emission of chlorine-like odor.

During clinical examination, medical staff observed bradycardia, wheezing and coarse bronchial sounds. One of the injured was declared dead on arrival. Other patients were treated with humidified oxygen and bronchodilators, after which their condition improved. In several cases involving more severe exposure to the chemical agents, medical staff put patients on a ventilator, including four children. Six casualties were reported at the center, one of whom was a woman who had convulsions and pinpoint pupils.

SAMS has documented 43 casualties with similar clinical symptoms of excessive oral foaming, cyanosis, and corneal burns. Civil Defense [White Helmet] volunteers were unable to evacuate the bodies due to the intensity of the odor and the lack of protective equipment. The reported symptoms indicate that the victims suffocated from the exposure to toxic chemicals, most likely an organophosphate element. </blockquote>

These reports succeeded in generating the desired results—the <a href=”https://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2018/04/280313.htm”>United States</a> was joined by the <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/08/syrian-government-accused-of-chemical-attacks-on-civilians-in-eastern-ghouta”>United Kingdom</a> and <a href=”https://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/en/country-files/syria/events/article/syria-chemical-weapons-eastern-ghouta-statement-by-minister-jean-yves-le-drian”>France</a> in condemning the alleged chemical weapons attack as a violation of international law that demanded an international response. <a href=”https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/982966315467116544?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.rferl.org%2Fa%2Fsyria-chemical-attack-syria-dozens-killed-russia%2F29152580.html&tfw_site=RFERL”>President Trump tweeted</a> out his own response, replete with ominously threatening language: “Many dead, including women and children, in mindless CHEMICAL attack in Syria. Area of atrocity is in lockdown and encircled by Syrian Army, making it completely inaccessible to outside world. President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad. Big price … to pay. Open area immediately for medical help and verification. Another humanitarian disaster for no reason whatsoever. SICK!”

By April 9, the U.N. Security Council was meeting in emergency session, leading to the inevitable <a href=”http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/382350-haley-russian-hands-covered-in-blood-from-syria-attack”>rhetorical clash</a> between the ambassadors from the United States and Russia. “The Russian regime, whose hands are all covered in the blood of Syrian children, cannot be ashamed by pictures of its victims,” U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley told the Security Council. She also took aim at Syria’s president, noting, “Only a monster does this.” For its part, Russia’s ambassador stated: “There was no chemical weapons attack,” adding that “[t]he boorishness against my country is unacceptable and exceeds Cold War standards.”

While a war of words transpired in New York, on the ground in Syria the situation was evolving in a manner which began to threaten the narrative marketed by the White Helmets, SAMS and other sources that had peddled the information used by Washington, London and Paris to build a case sustaining the allegation of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government. The Army of Islam, having been thoroughly defeated on the field of battle by the Syrian army, abandoned Douma for refuge in rebel-held Idlib province. As the probability of unfettered access to the actual sites of the alleged chemical attacks became reality, the locations and people captured on film at what had become Ground Zero in Douma were about to be placed under a microscope of scrutiny where fact would ultimately triumph over fiction.

<b>The Inspectors</b>

 At the headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague, Netherlands, the inspectors maintain a situation center responsible for monitoring news reports from around the world, looking for any initial indication of an event that would fall under the purview. As soon as reports started coming out of Syria of an alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government, the <a href=”https://aa.com.tr/en/middle-east/dutch-fm-suspects-chemical-attack-in-syrias-douma/1115264″>OPCW Situation Center</a> kicked into action, briefing the director-general, Ahmet Üzümcü, on the developments. After years of experience in Syria investigating similar allegations, the situation center had developed significant contacts with various NGOs on the ground inside Syria, including the White Helmets and SAMS, and <a href=”https://www.opcw.org/news/article/opcw-director-general-on-allegations-of-chemical-weapons-use-in-douma-syria/”>contact was established between the OPCW and these entities</a> to learn more about what was transpiring on the ground inside Douma. Using the preliminary assessment of the situation center, derived solely from the images provided by anti-regime activists, that an incident had actually occurred inside Syria, the director-general ordered the Fact Finding Mission (FFM), a standing body of inspectors tasked with investigating chemical incidents in Syria, to assemble and prepare for deployment into Syria. By April 9 <a href=”https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/EC/88/en/ecm58dg01_e_.pdf”>a team of nine personnel</a>, all volunteers, including several who were pulled out of training courses, were gathered, and preparations were made for the FFM to travel to Syria under protocols associated with what the OPCW called an <a href=”https://www.unog.ch/80256EDD006B8954/(httpAssets)/1A641BCF3E792CE2C12577AC004431CE/$file/BWC_MSP_2010-Presentation-100826-AM-OPCW.pdf”>“Investigation of Alleged Use” (IAU)</a> inspection under Article X of the CWC, where a state party to the CWC requests assistance in investigating an alleged use of chemical weapons. (The Syrian government had <a href=”https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-ghouta-investiga/syria-invites-opcw-to-investigate-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-idUSKBN1HH218″>formally requested</a> that the OPCW dispatch a team to Syria on April 10.)

A Title X IAU inspection is limited in scope to simply ascertaining whether a chemical agent was used—there would be no attribution of responsibility. By inviting the OPCW to investigate the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma, the Syrian government (together with its Russian allies, who had <a href=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/russia-invites-chemical-weapons-experts-to-visit-syria-site/2018/04/10/4e92c500-3c97-11e8-955b-7d2e19b79966_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.4c7e660a3405″>joined with Syria</a> in pressing for the OPCW to investigate the Douma allegations) was creating a diplomatic crisis of sorts over the role and function of the inspectors. For the United States, the United Kingdom and France, simply ascertaining whether a chemical agent was used was not enough—they wanted blame attached, and preferably to the Syrian government. The OPCW was not mandated to assign attribution for any alleged chemical incident; as such, the United States pushed a resolution in the Security Council to stand up an investigation team that would be able to assign blame. This resolution <a href=”https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/apr/10/russia-hits-back-over-syria-chemical-attack-with-call-for-un-inquiry”>was promptly vetoed</a> by Russia.

In the case of Syria, the Security Council had set up an entity, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), which worked hand-in-glove with the OPCW to investigate incidents of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria. The only difference was that the JIM was specifically mandated to assign blame for an attack, something it did with no small amount of controversy. In the aftermath of the joint OPCW/JIM investigation and report of an alleged use of chemical agent in Khan Shaykhun in April 2017, where blame was assigned to the Syrian government despite evidentiary issues related to a lack of chain of custody for samples used in the investigation, a failure to inspect the site of the alleged incident, and other investigatory shortfalls, Russia vetoed the extension of the mandate for the JIM, terminating it.

Without a specifically mandated investigatory mechanism to accompany the OPCW into Syria, any report issued by the OPCW would not be able to ascertain the blame needed by the United States, the United Kingdom and France to justify taking military action against Syria, something all three nations were speaking openly about in the days following the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma. Indeed, the existence of the OPCW team was viewed by many in the West, including James Mattis, as being irrelevant to the fact-finding process. “We’re trying to get inspectors in,” Mattis told Congress on April 12. “We will not know from this investigating team” who was responsible, Mattis said. “We will not know who did it. Only that it happened.” For Mattis and the other decision makers, who had already reached the conclusion that Syria had employed both chlorine gas and sarin nerve agent in Douma, this wasn’t good enough.

New videos had emerged from within Douma in the days following the alleged chemical attack, provided by the White Helmets, which claimed to show yellow 150-pound chlorine gas cylinders dropped by the Syrian military on targets inside Douma, including one site where numerous deaths were reported. These videos were picked up by the Western media and promoted by anti-regime social media activists such as Elliot Higgins, who posted a detailed assessment of the canisters and their relevance on his Bellingcat website. However, questions soon emerged about the legitimacy of the White Helmet video as proof of a chlorine attack, namely around the lack of damage to the cylinders involved, the lack of any indication that the cylinders contained chlorine gas, or, if they did, any chlorine gas leaked from the cylinders (the regulator valves on both canisters appeared to be undamaged and closed, and the physical integrity of both canisters seemed intact, prompting the question as to how any gas was alleged to have originated from either). Complicating matters further was the fact that, on April 9, a Russian military unit had arrived at the scene of the alleged gas attack to investigate and found no evidence of any chemical attack.

Suddenly, the OPCW fact-finding mission had new relevance. It no longer mattered that it could not assign blame for an alleged chemical weapons incident; the Russians and the Syrians had said that no such attack had taken place, and that no evidence of chemical weapons use existed at a site where numerous casualties from a chemical attack were alleged to have occurred. If the OPCW team confirmed the findings of the Russian reconnaissance team, there would be no case for military action. If, on the other hand, the OPCW team found that a chemical agent had been used in the face of Russian claims that none existed, the United States, the United Kingdom and France would have a stronger case for intervention.

The OPCW advance party deployed to Beirut on Thursday, April 12, and was joined by the rest of the team on Friday, April 13. Their plan was to deploy to Damascus on Saturday, April 14, and begin their work shortly thereafter. If chlorine had been used in Douma, as the White Helmets, SAMS and others claimed, inspectors would be able to find evidence of such in the form of various chloride salts, produced by the hydrochloric acid that was in turn produced through the reaction of chlorine gas with any substance it encountered upon release. The Russian military experts who visited Douma on April 9 were no doubt aware of this. If the OPCW team was able to detect significant traces of chloride salts, then the Russian findings would be debunked, and the claims of the White Helmets, SAMS and others bolstered.

The American-led military attack on Syria took place while the OPCW fact-finding mission assembled in Beirut; on Saturday, April 14, while the team drove to Damascus, Syria was dealing with consequences of this act. Despite this new reality, the Syrian government met with the fact-finding mission to discuss the arrangements needed for the team to travel to Douma to carry out its tasks. Problems soon arose regarding the security of the OPCW team; Russia and Syria claimed that, in the aftermath of the missile strike on Douma, the security environment in Douma had deteriorated when militants, emboldened by the attack, began shooting at Syrian military patrols. This prompted the need for Russia and Syria to find alternative routes into and out of the areas in Douma that needed to be inspected and to clear these routes of debris and mines. On Tuesday, April 17, the OPCW fact-finding mission sent a reconnaissance team to Douma but withdrew after coming under fire, further delaying the arrival of the main body of inspectors and their ability to carry out their assigned tasks.

While the OPCW inspectors waited in Damascus, the Syrian government provided them with access to 22 medical personnel it claimed had treated the alleged victims of the chemical attack, and who could provide testimony that no such attack took place. While the OPCW has not indicated whether these interviews actually took place, or what the findings of any such interviews were, insight into their probable content could be found via Russian media, which aired interviews with two Syrian medical personnel who appeared in the White Helmet video showing victims of the alleged chemical attack being treated in Douma.

In one such interview, a person identified as Khalil Azizah, claiming to be a medical student who works in the emergency room of the central hospital of Douma, declared that “a house in the city was bombed. The upper floors of the building were destroyed and a fire broke out on the first several floors. All those who were injured in this building were brought to us. The residents of the upper floors had signs of smoke inhalation from the fire’s smoke. We provided assistance based upon the symptoms of smoke inhalation. During this time an unknown person came in. I don’t know him. He said that this was an attack using poisonous substances. People were frightened, there was a struggle; the relatives of the wounded began to spray each other with water. Other people without medical training began putting anti-asthma inhalers in children’s mouths. We didn’t see a single patient with signs of chemical poisoning.”

Khalil Azizah claimed that the incident in question took place on April 8, one day after the alleged attack of April 7. However, he referred to the same video shot by the White Helmets and pointed to his image in the video as one of the personnel providing medical treatment. As such, there is no doubt that the incident Khalil Azizah refers to is the same one recorded by the White Helmets. Moreover, Azizah’s narrative of smoke inhalation is consistent with the finding of the French intelligence report on the Douma chemical attack, which noted that, based upon an examination of the images of the alleged victims, one of the possible explanations behind the symptoms produced was “hydrocyanic acid” (the solution of hydrogen cyanide in water). Hydrogen cyanide is something not found in either chlorine or sarin exposure, but prevalent in the smoke produced by structure fires. The presence of hydrogen cyanide would be explained by a structure fire, and as such, Azizah’s testimony provides a viable alternative explanation for the victims being treated by the Douma hospital, as well as those filmed dead at the scene of the alleged chemical attack.

The Western media aired its own recorded interviews of alleged victims who had fled from Douma to refugee camps along the Turkish border. Complicating the story further, reporters from a variety of news outlets had made their way to the actual site of the alleged Douma chemical attack while the OPCW inspectors were stranded in Damascus. A CBS crew was shown the chlorine canister on the roof of the building where the victims of the chemical attack were claimed to have died and interviewed eyewitnesses who claimed to have been present during the attack. Other journalists visited the same location and interviewed eyewitnesses who claimed no chemical attack had taken place.

Meanwhile, the delay for getting the OPCW inspectors into Douma prompted the United States, the United Kingdom and France to speculate that Russia was sanitizing the site of the attack of any evidence that would show chemicals were used, a charge Russia vehemently denied (and something the various news reports conducted at the scene would suggest was not, in fact, the case). Not to be outdone, the head of the White Helmets claims to have provided the OPCW fact-finding mission the locations of “mass graves” containing the victims of the alleged chemical attack. The forensic viability of these bodies (for which no documentation exists and no chain of custody has been provided linking them to the chemical incident in question, if they in fact exist) is virtually nil, and it is unlikely the OPCW would seek to have them exhumed in any event. The allegations of their existence, however, represents the latest in a series of roadblocks that have been placed in the way of the OPCW inspectors.

The truth is out there, waiting on the ground in Douma. There is no doubt that the OPCW fact-finding mission has the forensic investigatory capability to detect the presence of chemical agents at the scene of the alleged chemical attack of April 7. The amount of chlorine necessary to have produced the number of casualties claimed is significant, and as such the chemical residue unique to such an event would be present in large quantities, and easily detected; no amount of “sanitation” by Russia or any other party could eliminate these traces.

This is the truth of the Douma chemical allegations—they can be readily proved or disproved almost immediately upon arrival at the scene by qualified inspectors from the OPCW. The fact that the United States, the United Kingdom and France opted to attack Syria without allowing the OPCW inspectors to first accomplish their mission provides the clearest indication possible that all three nations knew they possessed a shocking lack of intelligence to sustain their allegations surrounding the use of chemical agents by the Syrian government, and that the missile attack of April 13, was little more than a propaganda exercise designed to promote larger policy objectives regarding U.S., U.K. and French policy in Syria. This conclusion holds regardless of what the ultimate finding is by the OPCW inspectors as to what transpired on the ground in Douma the evening of April 7, 2018.

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Chemical Weapons Team Kept From Alleged Attack Site in Syria

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by SARAH EL DEEB and NATALIYA VASILEYVA / The Associated PRess.

BEIRUT — Independent investigators were prevented by Syrian and Russian officials Monday from reaching the scene of an alleged chemical attack near the Syrian capital, an official said, days after the U.S., France and Britain bombarded sites they said were linked to Syria’s chemical weapons program.

The lack of access to the town of Douma by inspectors from the watchdog group, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, has left questions about the April 7 attack unanswered.

OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said Syrian and Russian officials cited “pending security issues” in keeping its inspectors from reaching Douma.

“The team has not yet deployed to Douma,” two days after arriving in Syria, Uzumcu told an executive council of the OPCW in The Hague.

Syrian authorities were offering 22 people to interview as witnesses instead, he said, adding that he hoped “all necessary arrangements will be made … to allow the team to deploy to Douma as soon as possible.”

The U.S. and France say they have evidence that poison gas was used in Douma, east of Damascus, killing dozens of people, and that President Bashar Assad’s military was behind it, but they have made none of that evidence public. Syria and its ally Russia deny any such attack took place.

Deputy Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov blamed the Western airstrikes carried out early Saturday for holding up a mission by the OPCW team to Douma. He said the inspectors cannot access the site because it needs permission from U.N. security experts.

Ryabkov’s remarks could indicate a possible attempt to bog down the team, even though both Russia and the Syrian government have welcomed the OPCW visit.

He told reporters in Moscow that what is hampering a speedy resolution of the visit to Douma was “the consequences of the illegal, unlawful military action,” a reference to the punitive airstrikes.

The OPCW team arrived in Syria shortly before the airstrikes and met with Syrian officials. Government forces and Russian troops have been deployed in Douma, which is now controlled by the Syrian government.

“It is the lack of approval by the U.N. Department for Safety and Security for OPCW experts to visit the site in Douma that is the problem,” Ryabkov told reporters.

Syrian opposition and activists have criticized the Russia deployment in the town, saying that evidence of chemical weapons’ use might no longer be found.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Russia interfered with any evidence.

“I can guarantee that Russia has not tampered with the site,” Lavrov told the BBC in an interview Monday.

The Kremlin also denied that Russia was not allowing the OPCW mission in, without elaborating.

“As far as I understand what is hampering a speedy resolution of this problem is the consequences of the illegal, unlawful military action that Great Britain and other countries conducted on Saturday,” said Ryabkov.

The OPCW was holding an emergency meeting in The Hague to discuss the suspected chemical attack in Douma.

Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said earlier that his country is “fully ready” to cooperate with the OPCW mission. He said government officials met with the delegation, which has been in Damascus for three days, a number of times to discuss cooperation.

Syria has in the past accused the West of politically manipulating the OPCW mission.

At least 40 people are believed to have died in the attack on Douma, which until Saturday was the last rebel-held town near Damascus.

The OPCW team dispatched to Syria to investigate does not have a mandate to assign blame.

Russia vetoed last year the extension of the mandate of another joint U.N.-OPCW joint body in charge of determining who was behind other chemical attacks in Syria. The joint body was created in 2015 and found the Syrian government responsible for using sarin gas last year in Khan Shaykhoun, a rebel-held area in northern Syria.

Meanwhile, NATO’s secretary general said the U.S.-led airstrikes will reduce the Syrian government’s capabilities of carrying out new chemical attacks.

Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes were a “clear message” to Assad, Russia and Iran that the use of chemical weapons is not acceptable and that the allies would not stand idle. He spoke in an interview with Turkey’s NTV television on Monday.

In Damascus, hundreds of Syrians gathered Monday in Omayyad Square in Damascus, rallying in support of their armed forces, which they said had succeeded in confronting the airstrikes by the West.

State TV broadcast the rally live from the central square, where protesters waved Syrian flags in a demonstration that was dubbed a “salute to the achievements of the Arab Syrian Army.” They also set off fireworks and unleashed celebratory gunfire.

Shouts of “Allah, Syria, and only Bashar,” a reference to Assad, rang out.

The strikes have ratcheted up international tension, as the U.S. and Russia exchanged threats of retaliation.

The White House said a decision on new economic sanctions against Russia will be made soon, not committing to an announcement that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley had said to expect for enabling Syria to continue to use chemical weapons.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said: “We are considering additional sanctions on Russia and a decision will be made in the near future.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said the military strikes violated the U.N. Charter and that if they continue, “it will inevitably entail chaos in international relations,” according to a Kremlin statement on Sunday.

Douma was the last rebel holdout in the eastern Ghouta enclave, which was the target of a government offensive in February and March that killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands of people.

Syrian media, Russian and Syrian officials have sought to play down the impact of the airstrikes, saying the Syrian air defenses intercepted most of the missiles. The Pentagon says no missiles were engaged.

Also Monday, British Prime Minister Theresa May was to face angry lawmakers for authorizing the strikes without a vote in Parliament. Her office said she planned to tell them the strikes were “in Britain’s national interest” and were carried out to stop further suffering from chemical weapons attacks.


Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.

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The Latest: U.N. Council Rejects Russia Resolution on Syria

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — The Latest on U.S.-led missile strikes on Syria (all times local):

1:40 p.m.

The U.N. Security Council has rejected a Russian resolution calling for condemnation of the “aggression” by the United States and its allies against Syria.

Only three countries — Russia, China and Bolivia — voted in favor of the resolution at the end of an emergency meeting of the 15-member council called by Russia on Saturday. Eight countries voted against and three abstained.

A resolution needs at least 9 “yes” votes to be approved.

The vote reflected the deep divisions in the U.N.’s most powerful body, which has been paralyzed in dealing with the seven-year Syrian conflict and chemical weapons use in the country.

The U.S., Britain and France say they launched airstrikes against Syrian chemical sites after obtaining “proof” that poisonous gas was used last weekend in Douma. Russia and Syria call the attack fabricated.


1:30 p.m.

French President Emmanuel Macron says the joint military operation by the U.S., Britain and France on Syrian targets has achieved its goals.

Macron’s office said in a statement that the French leader talked separately with President Donald Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May on Saturday after the strikes had ended.

The strikes were a response to Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government using suspected chemical weapons on its people on April 7, killing 40 civilians.

Macron says, “The operation against the chemical capabilities of the Syrian regime… has achieved its objectives.” The French president “praised the excellent coordination of our forces with those of our British and American allies” during the military strikes.

He says the U.N. Security Council must now work together to help the people of Syria.


1:20 p.m.

Israel’s premier is lauding the American-led strikes against Syria as proof of its commitment to halt the use of chemical weapons.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Saturday that the joint American-British-French operation showed they would not be satisfied with statements alone. Netanyahu warned Syrian President Bashar Assad that his efforts to acquire “weapons of mass destruction” and his allowing Iran to establish itself in Syria threaten his country.

Israel has issued several stern warnings of late about Iran’s increased involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon. Netanyahu has been a strong supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump and complemented his “resolve” in countering the threat.

The airstrikes carried out early Saturday in Syria were in response to a suspected chemical attack against civilians last weekend that killed more than 40 people.


1:15 p.m.

U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria have prompted senior Mormon church officials to change their travel plans as they continue a world tour.

A spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Saturday that a delegation led by church President Russell M. Nelson left Jerusalem ahead of schedule over “concerns pertaining to tension in the region and available airspace.”

The airstrikes were launched early Saturday in Syria.

Spokesman Doug Anderson says the 93-year-old Nelson, apostle Jeffrey R. Holland and their wives are “cognizant of the conditions in neighboring Syria.”

According to Anderson, the delegation is beginning the Africa portion of its trip sooner than planned.

The tour began in London. Other planned stops include Nairobi, Kenya; Harare, Zimbabwe; Bengaluru, India; Bangkok; Hong Kong; and Honolulu


12:50 p.m.

The Arab League’s chief has expressed regret and alarm at the latest developments in Syria following the launch of joint U.S., British, and French airstrikes to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians in the town outside Damascus.

Secretary General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit told reporters on Saturday that all parties involved in the crisis, primarily the Syrian government, are responsible for the deterioration of the situation. He says the prohibited use of chemical weapons against civilians “shouldn’t be accepted or tolerated.”

He also says the issue requires a sustainable political solution for the Syrian crisis.

Aboul-Gheit spoke from the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia, where an Arab League summit is to take place Sunday.


12:45 p.m.

A former officer in Syria’s chemical program says the joint U.S., British, and French strikes in response to an suspected chemical attack in a Damascus suburb hit “parts of but not the heart” of the program.

Adulsalam Abdulrazek said Saturday that the joint strikes were unlikely to curb the government’s ability to produce or launch new attacks.

Speaking from rebel-held northern Syria, Abdulrazek told The Associated Press there were an estimated 50 warehouses around Syria that stored chemical weapons before the program was dismantled in 2013. He says he believes those fixed storage facilities remain intact or were only slightly moved around.

He says Syria’s chemical weapons program was only partially dismantled because Damascus didn’t allow inspections of existing stockpiles and capabilities.


12:40 p.m.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says Russia’s obstruction course at the U.N. Security Council left NATO’s U.S, British and French allies no option but to launch a missile attack on key Syrian installations.

Stoltenberg said after a debriefing of NATO ambassadors by the three allies Saturday that “before the attack took place last night, NATO allies exhausted all other possible ways to address this issue to the UNSC by diplomatic and political means.”

He added, “But since this was blocked by Russia, there was no other alternative.”

Stoltenberg says, “I am not saying that the attacks last night solved all problems but compared to the alternative to do nothing this was the right thing to do.”

A U.S.-led airstrike campaign against Syria was in response to a suspected chemical attack against civilians last weekend.


12:35 p.m.

Russia is demanding a vote on a U.N. resolution that would condemn “the aggression” against Syria by the United States and its allies.

The resolution is certain to be defeated in the U.N. Security Council when it is put to a vote later Saturday at the end of an emergency meeting called by Russia following airstrikes by the U.S., U.K. and France in Syria against chemical sites.

The short draft resolution calls the “aggression” a violation of international law and the U.N. charter.

It demands that military action stop “immediately and without delay.”

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that the U.S. and its allies struck without waiting for an investigation by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, calling the attack “hooliganism.”


12:30 p.m.

Vice President Mike Pence says the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria “degraded and crippled” the country’s chemical weapons capability.

Pence told Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on the sidelines of a summit in Peru on Saturday that President Donald Trump “made it clear to the world” that the United States “will not tolerate these chemical weapons.”

And he says the U.S. is “prepared to sustain this effort if necessary.”

Pence is filling in for Trump at the Summit of the Americas in Lima.

Pence says he’s hopeful that Russia and Iran will “once and for all abandon chemical weapons” against innocent civilians.

Trudeau has called the airstrikes “unfortunate but necessary.”

The airstrikes that hit Syria earlier Saturday were in response to a suspected chemical attack against civilians last weekend.


12:25 p.m.

NATO says all 29 of its members in the alliance back the airstrikes on Syria as a consequence of the country conducting a suspected chemical attack against its civilians last weekend.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the strikes early Saturday by the U.S., United Kingdom and France were about making sure that chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity. He noted that the three allies said it was “a very successful action” that significantly degraded the abilities of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to launch chemical attacks soon again.

On April 7, more than 40 civilians were killed in a suspected chemical attack in Douma outside Damascus. Syria has denied responsibility, but the U.S., France and Britain have said there is no doubt the Assad government was responsible.


12:15 p.m.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says President Donald Trump told her if the Syrian regime uses poisonous gas again, “the United States is locked and loaded” to strike again.

Nikki Haley relayed the message from Trump at an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Saturday. She says, “When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.”

Haley says the message from the U.S., U.K. and French airstrikes earlier Saturday that “crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program” was “crystal clear.”

She says, “The United States of America will not allow the Assad regime to continue using chemical weapons.”

Haley accused Russia of defending Syrian President Bashar Assad and failing to ensure that Syria’s chemical weapons were destroyed as the Assad regime had pledged in 2013.



French Defense Minister Florence Parly says that the joint military strikes by the U.S., Britain and France on Syrian targets was a success and that the mission’s goals have been achieved.

Parly spoke Saturday at a news conference following a defense council meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron and other officials. She says, “Syria’s ability to design, produce and stockpile chemical weapons has been greatly diminished.”

Parly says, “The mission is a success. Its military objectives are achieved.”

The joint military strikes were intended as a punishment for Syrian President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians in the town of Douma outside Damascus last week. Opposition leaders and rescuers say more than 40 people, including many women and children, died in the suspected chemical attack.


11:25 a.m.

Turkey’s president says the airstrikes on Syrian targets in retaliation for a suspected chemical attack were “correct” and showed the Syrian regime that such actions would not go “unanswered.”

Speaking Saturday in Istanbul, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed his support of the joint American, British and French military operation but said more must be done to hold the Syrian regime accountable for the hundreds of thousands killed using conventional weapons.

He says, “The people martyred by chemicals is a certain amount, but the people martyred by conventional weapons is much, much more.”

Erdogan called the days leading up to the airstrikes a “showdown” led by America and Russia. He says he pushed for a peaceful end to the tension in a conversation with British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier Saturday.


10:10 a.m.

The Pentagon says a Russian “disinformation campaign” has already begun over the U.S.-led airstrikes in Syria.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Saturday that “there has been a 2,000 percent increase in Russian trolls in the past 24 hours.”

The U.S., Britain and France said they launched Saturday’s strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for a suspected chemical attack against civilians in the town of Douma outside Damascus. Opposition leaders and rescuers say more than 40 people, including many women and children, died in the suspected chemical attack.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the attack was an attempt to derail an investigation into a purported chemical attack. The Foreign Ministry says facts presented by Russian investigators indicated that the purported attack was a “premeditated and cynical sham.”


10 a.m.

The Pentagon is backing President Donald Trump’s assertion that the missile strikes on Syria were “Mission Accomplished!”

Trump used the haunting political phrase “Mission Accomplished!” in a tweet Saturday morning to praise the “perfectly executed strike” against Syria. President George W. Bush famously spoke under a “Mission Accomplished” banner in 2003 when he declared that major combat operations in Iraq were over, but the war dragged on for years.

Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White says, “It was mission accomplished.”

However, one of the stated goals of the strikes was to deter Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government from using chemical weapons again. It is too soon to know if that will be the case.

White says the strikes “were very successful. We met our objectives. We hit the sites.”


9:50 a.m.

The Pentagon says they believe the airstrikes “attacked the heart of the Syrian chemical weapons program.”

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, says the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria has been “a very serious blow.”

The U.S., France and Britain launched military strikes on Saturday morning in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad (bah-SHAR’ AH’-sahd) for an apparent chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White says the target choices were “very methodical,” calling it a “deliberate decision” to go after chemical weapons facilities. She says the U.S. was confident that they had “significantly degraded his ability to use chemical weapons ever again.”


9:30 a.m.

The Pentagon says none of the missiles filed by the U.S. and its allies was deflected by Syrian air defenses, rebutting claims by the Russian and Syrian governments.

Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, says: “None of our aircraft or missiles involved in this operation were successfully engaged by Syrian air defenses.” He says there also is no indication that Russian air defense systems were employed early Saturday in Syria.

The Russian military had previously said Syria’s Soviet-made air defense systems downed 71 out of 103 cruise missiles launched by the United States and its allies.

McKenzie says 105 weapons were launched against three targets in Syria.

Characterizing the strike as a success, McKenzie says, “As of right now we’re not aware of any civilian casualties.”


9:20 a.m.

The Pentagon says the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria “successfully hit every target.”

Chief Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said Saturday that the strikes were launched to “cripple Syria’s ability to use chemical weapons in the future.”

The U.S., France and Britain launched military strikes on Saturday morning in Syria to punish President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians last week and to deter him from doing it again.

White says the strikes do not “represent a change in U.S. policy or an attempt to depose the Syrian regime.” But she says, “We cannot allow such grievous violations of international law.”

She also called on Russia to “honor its commitment” to ensure the Assad regime gives up chemical weapons.


9 a.m.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the U.S. and its allies launched strikes on Syria to derail an investigation into a purported chemical attack.

The U.S., Britain and France said they launched Saturday’s strike to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for an alleged chemical attack against civilians in the town of Douma outside Damascus.

The Foreign Ministry said that facts presented by Russian investigators indicated the purported attack was a “premeditated and cynical sham.”

The ministry noted that the strikes were launched on Saturday as a team of experts from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was to visit Douma. It added that “we have every reason to believe that the attack on Syria was intended to hamper the work of the OPCW inspectors.”


8:45 a.m.

President Donald Trump is using a haunting political phrase “Mission Accomplished” in the aftermath of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syria.

Back in 2003, then-President George W. Bush spoke under a “Mission Accomplished” banner when he went aboard an aircraft carrier in California to declare that major combat operations in Iraq were over — just six weeks after the invasion.

But the war dragged on for many years after that, and Bush was heavily criticized for his statement.

Trump is tweeting about what he calls “a perfectly executed strike” against Syria. And he’s thanking allies France and Britain “for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military. Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”


8:30 a.m.

A U.N. Security Council diplomat says the council will meet later Saturday at Russia’s request, following the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria.

Moscow has denounced the attack on its ally by the U.S., Britain and France. Russian President Vladimir Putin calls it an “act of aggression” that will only worsen the humanitarian crisis in Syria.

The Security Council held emergency meetings this past week on the suspected poison gas attack last weekend in the rebel-controlled Damascus suburb of Douma.

President Donald Trump and his British and French allies say the airstrikes were necessary to deter Syria’s use of chemical weapons. Russia insists there’s no evidence that chemical weapons were used.

A fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is in Syria to investigate.


7:10 a.m.

A global chemical warfare watchdog group says its fact-finding mission to Syria will go ahead even after the U.S.-led airstrikes.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says in a statement that its team will stick to its plan to investigate last weekend’s suspected poison gas attack in Douma.

The group says the mission “will continue its deployment to the Syrian Arab Republic to establish facts around the allegations of chemical weapons use in Douma.”

Russia and Syria disagree with Western allies that gas was used by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s forces to suppress opposition close to Damascus in an April 7 attack.


7:05 a.m.

Iranian officials have made calls to Syrian leaders in the wake of the U.S.-led airstrikes against Syrian targets.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, tells Syria’s Bashar Assad that America’s goal is to justify its continued presence in the region.

That description of their conversation comes from Syrian and Iranian state news agencies.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, has spoken with his Syrian counterpart, too. Zarif says the U.S. is using allegations of chemical weapons to justify attacking Syria before inspectors from a chemical weapons watchdog agency begin their work.


5:50 a.m.

Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency says Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has called the U.S.-led airstrikes on Syria a “military crime.”

He spoke at a meeting with Iranian officials and ambassadors from some Islamic countries.

The report quotes Khamenei as calling the leaders of the United States, Britain and France — the countries that launched the attack — “criminals.”

The allies’ operation was intended to punish Syrian President Bashar Assad for an apparent chemical attack against civilians and to deter him from doing it again.


5:45 a.m.

NATO representatives are planning a special session to hear from U.S., British and French officials about their military strike against Syria.

The alliance briefing is expected later Saturday, and NATO’s secretary-general has expressed strong support for the coordinated military action aimed at the Syrian governor’s chemical weapons program.

Jens Stoltenberg says the missile strikes will erode the Syrian government’s “ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons.”

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Certain of Gas Attack, Allies Struck Syria Before U.N. Report

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by MATTHEW LEE / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — The United States, Britain and France opted to strike Syria for its apparent use of chemical weapons without waiting for a report from U.N. inspectors because they were convinced that the Assad government had used chlorine and possibly sarin nerve gas against a rebel-held Damascus suburb, American officials said Saturday.

The allies also acted because of concerns that Russian and Syrian forces may already have tried to clean up important evidence in Douma, where more than 40 people died in last weekend’s attack, the officials said.

The three countries launched their missiles even as the fact-finding team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was in the Syrian capital and had been expected to head on Saturday to Douma.

Russia and Syria have denied that chemical weapons were used at all and said their own investigators had been to the area and found no trace of them. Those assertions have been denounced as lies by Western officials.

The West’s assessments of what happened April 7 in Douma rely mainly on open source information. That includes witness testimony, as well as video and photos shot by aid workers, victims of the attacks and unspecified additional intelligence about barrel bombs and chlorine canisters found in the aftermath.

Barrel bombs are large containers packed with fuel, explosives and scraps of metal, and British Prime Minister Theresa May said reports indicated the Syrian government had used one to deliver the chemicals.

The White House said doctors and aid organizations on the ground in Douma reported “the strong smell of chlorine and described symptoms consistent with exposure to sarin.”

In a briefing at the Pentagon Friday night, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he was “very confident” chlorine was used, and while “not ruling out sarin,” could not definitively confirm use of that deadly nerve agent.

Chlorine use has been a recurring footnote in the course of Syria’s civil war, but rarely has it generated the same outrage as reports of sarin use.

Chlorine has legitimate industrial and other civilian uses, so it is not banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. The treaty does, however, prohibit the use of chlorine as a weapon.

One senior U.S. official familiar with the decision to act on Friday said the U.S., British and French intelligence services were unanimous in their assessments of the attack and were “eager” to move when they did because of concerns about contamination of the site.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss specifics beyond those contained in the formal statements.

Despite the strikes, the chemical weapons watchdog agency said its experts would go ahead with their mission. The Russian foreign ministry, however, accused the allies of acting when they did “to hamper the work of the OPCW inspectors.”

The U.S. has denied that assertion and called the group’s mission “essential” to a complete understanding of what chemical agents were used.

A second U.S. official said Britain, France and the U.S. are confident that the inspectors’ eventual report will confirm their findings that chlorine was used, likely in conjunction with sarin.

The three governments noted dozens previous, smaller-scale chlorine and other chemical weapons attacks over the course of the past year, since President Donald Trump first ordered airstrikes against Syria last April.

Reports of major chlorine attacks began emerging in 2014, soon after Syria’s declaration of complete chemical disarmament, which was the result of an Obama administration agreement between the U.S. and Russia. The agreement only covered declared chemical weapons. Syria is widely suspected of hiding some stocks, manufacturing more as well as holding on to chlorine.

“The pictures of dead children were not fake news. They were the result of the Syrian regime’s barbaric inhumanity,” Trump’s U.N. ambassador, Nikki Haley, said Saturday. “And they were the result of the regime and Russia’s failure to live up to their international commitments to remove all chemical weapons from Syria. The United States, France, and the United Kingdom acted after careful evaluation of these facts.”

In August 2015, the U.N. Security Council first authorized the OPCW and U.N. investigators to probe reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, as witnesses began to circulate increasing accounts of chlorine attacks by government forces against civilians in opposition-held areas.

A year later, the joint OPCW-U.N. panel determined the Syrian government had twice used helicopters to deploy chlorine against its opponents in civilian areas in northern Idlib province. A later report held the government responsible for a third attack.

There have been dozens of attacks with chlorine gas since then, including an attack in Aleppo in 2016 that reportedly killed a woman and two children, and at least two attacks on the town of Saraqeb in northern Syria that injured dozens.

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