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15 Apr, 2017 10:02

Moscow to press OPCW & UN to send experts to probe Idlib chemical incident in Syria – Lavrov

Inspectors should be urgently sent to both Syria’s Idlib province and the Shayrat Airbase to conduct an unbiased investigation into the alleged use of chemical weapons, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said.

Russia will call on both the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN to investigate, Lavrov said after meeting with his Qatari counterpart in Moscow.

“We think that it is absolutely necessary to conduct a thorough, objective, professional, and unbiased investigation. We will insist that the OPCW and the UN in New York urgently send inspectors both to the site of incident and the airfield itself, where, according to Western experts, the munitions were loaded with chemicals.”

Lavrov argued that the remote investigation initially planned by the OPCW is unreasonable, stating that the organization should be more responsible in fulfilling its duties. He also questioned the apparent secrecy of the OPCW’s actions.

“It is very important to provide transparency in this process because, up until now, the OPCW experts have been operating somewhat surreptitiously for some reason,” the minister said.

“After the fact, they announced that, a few days ago, samples had somehow been collected at the site of the incident and delivered to a laboratory, which, as far as I understand, is not certified by the OPCW itself. It’s unclear why such clumsy actions are being taken.

“If we can make sure the members of the expert team are unbiased and professional, we are sure that the results of the investigation will be objective, and those who are guilty of this act will have to be held responsible,” Lavrov stated.
Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani also stressed the importance of punishing those responsible for the alleged chemical attack.

“All countries should make their commitments to such an investigation, because if we do not punish the perpetrators, it will inevitably encourage them to conduct more actions of this type,” the Qatari foreign minister told journalists after the meeting.

The Syrian government has sent an official invitation to the OPCW, asking its experts to take part in the investigation, while the opposition has promised to provide access to areas it controls, as well guarantee security for the experts, according to Russia’s foreign minister.

Commenting on who should conduct the investigation, Lavrov opposed the idea of creating a special tribunal, as they “haven’t gained a good reputation.”

Earlier, the British media reported that Syria’s former chemical weapons research chief, Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat, who defected in 2013, has alleged that the Syrian government hid large quantities of chemicals from the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog.

READ MORE: Russia, Syria & Iran demand no further US strikes on Syria – foreign ministers

In addressing questions from journalists about these allegations, Lavrov pointed to inconsistencies in the defector’s account, as the quantity of chemicals he cited is vastly different from that given by the OPCW.

“The total amount of chemicals to be destroyed was 1,300 tons, while the general claimed yesterday that there were 2,000 tons of chemical weapons,” Lavrov said.

The minister pointed out that the quantity of chemical munitions had been announced and verified by the OPCW in 2014.

“Since the amount of 1,300 tons was declared openly, then I have the question of why the General remained silent for three years if he knew about 2,000 tons,” Russia’s foreign minister said, adding “700 tons is not a small amount, you can’t hide it in a sample tube.”

“So, I believe any sane person can see that the general was encouraged, with either carrot or stick,” he said.

The same discrepancies were found regarding chemical weapons in Libya, Lavrov recalled.

“I believe it is unacceptable to take this so carelessly, because all our appeals to the OPCW and our Western partners are met with speculations that these 200 tons have literally evaporated,” he said.

Earlier, Russia called for an international inquiry into the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Idlib province. The US blamed Damascus for the incident, while providing no hard evidence to back its claims, and fired a barrage of missiles at Syria’s Shayrat airfield on April 7. Russia has denounced Washington’s missile attack, calling it an act of international aggression and a violation of “the principles of international law and the UN Charter.”