Ahrar Al-Sham plans to launch chemical attack on civilians, blame it on Syria govt – Syrian UN envoy

Rebel fighters from the Ahrar al-Sham Islamic Movement © Khalil Ashawi
Militants from Ahrar Al-Sham, a hardline Islamist group, are planning to use white phosphorus in an attack on civilians to later blame it on Syrian armed forces, UN envoy Bashar Ja’afari told a UN Security Council emergency meeting on Sunday.

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“I have information that Ahrar Al-Sham terrorists intend to mount attacks on civilian population using white phosphorus for the sake of fabricating accusations against the Syrian state and its army,” the diplomat said at the meeting as cited by TASS.

To falsify the evidence and make their claims sound more credible, the militants plan to pose as Syrian army troops as they deploy the banned substance, Ja’afari said, adding that imposters are going to put on Syrian army uniforms and film the whole incident on camera. He did not elaborate on the source of the intelligence.

White phosphorus is an extremely poisonous toxic agent able to inflict severe burn injuries and is banned from use in civilian areas, according to international law. It is only legitimate to deploy the chemical to create a smokescreen, make signals, or markings for friendly troops. The US has repeatedly used this loophole to use white phosphorus during Middle Eastern campaigns while claiming the indiscriminate weapon is only used as a smokescreen for advancing troops. Most recently, US military deployed white phosphorus shells in Iraq, saying they were used to “obscure” Kurdish fighters’ offensive against Islamists.

Speaking of the alleged upcoming provocation, Ja’afari mentioned the suspicious activity by American experts, who, he claimed, had visited one of the chemical munitions depots in the rebel-held town of Saraqib in the northwestern Idlib province. Upon examining the site, the experts departed Syria for Turkey, he claimed.

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For its part, Syria has been acting in full compliance with the UN Charter and international law on warfare, Ja’afari said, repelling accusations of alleged use of incendiary weapons by the Syrian forces.

“We condemn the statements of several UN representatives that we are using banned weapons or targeting the civilian population,” he said, pointing to the fact that the UN, at the same time, is turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons by rebels. 

In March, Islamist militants of the Ahrar Al group along with a string of other armed opposition groups were accused by shelling the predominantly Kurdish Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood of Aleppo with yellow phosphorus by Kurdish YPG fighters.

Ahrar Al-Sham also committed a bulk of violations that contributed the ceasefire failure in Syria, according to the Russian military. The group, which is believed to be allied with Al-Nusra Front, has rejected the latest ceasefire, but is still not officially recognized as terrorist by US-led coalition despite Russia’s repeated requests.

“Not long ago, the Americans at last sent us a list of organizations which they consider to be part of the ceasefire and which should not be targeted. In one of the first positions there is Ahrar al-Sham,” Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said in interview to Sputnik earlier in September, adding that it “seems the Americans are listing a part of a terrorist structure, which is recognized as such by the UN, as an organization loyal to them.”

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While the meeting was focused on the escalation of hostilities in Aleppo, where the Syrian armed forces are conducting a large-scale anti-terror operation in the eastern part of the embattled city, the US, UK and French representatives have demonstratively walked out from the meeting before the Syrian envoy was about to give Syria’s government prospective on the issue.

In his turn, Ja’afari slammed the countries for disrupting the peace process in Syria by carrying out airstrikes at Syrian army positions. 

“Several UN member states should stop lying to themselves and to the whole world,” he said.

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Despite the repeated violations of the ceasefire by the rebels, Syria is ready to breathe life in the stalled intra-Syrian talks and renew the negotiations but only with those forces who are “genuine patriots of their country and not acting on orders from abroad and receive money there.”

The Syrian envoy pointed out that Syrian government take all possible measures to ensure the civilian population would not suffer from the offensive, asking them to keep away from terrorist positions. However, the militants “do not let the civilians leave Aleppo and use them as [human] shields,” the envoy said.