US seeking to turn OPCW into ‘manipulation instrument’ to exert pressure on Syria – Russian MoD
Washington and its allies are trying to force the OPCW to level accusations against Damascus even though there is no solid evidence of its culpability in alleged chemical incidents in Syria, the Russian Defense Ministry said.
“The initiators of the missile strike [against Syrian government targets in April] attempt to force the OPCW [Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] to bring any accusations [against] Damascus,” even though pinning the blame is actually beyond the scope of the international chemical weapons watchdog’s jurisdiction, the ministry said in a statement.
The ultimate goal of the US and its allies is to turn the OPCW into a “US-controlled manipulation instrument [used] to exert political pressure on Syria,” the Defense Ministry said. The US, the UK and France particularly try to do that to retroactively justify their strikes against the Syrian military and civilian facilities, it added.
If they succeed, those accusations will be used as a pretext for granting the OPCW fact-finding mission in Syria new authority, which would involve holding any party to the conflict responsible for any chemical incident.
These plans are nothing but an attempt to turn the OPCW fact-finding mission into a substitute for the “discredited” Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), the ministry said. The US previously repeatedly attempted to “resurrect” the JIM, whose mandate had expired in November 2017. Moscow has repeatedly criticized the JIM investigation into last April's Khan Sheikhoun incident as "unprofessional."
One of the major flaws of the probe, as pointed out by Russia, was that the whole investigation was conducted remotely. It further noted that the latest report of the OPCW fact-finding mission on the February incident that allegedly took place in the Syrian province of Idlib is already “deeply puzzling.”
The report published on Wednesday said that the mission "determined that chlorine, released from cylinders through mechanical impact, was likely used as a chemical weapon on 4 February 2018 in the Al Talil neighborhood of Saraqib" in the Idlib province of Syria. However, the evidence used by the OPCW experts to substantiate their conclusions seems to be flimsy at best.
“The text of the report itself says that the experts were unable to visit the site of the alleged chemical attack, as the Idlib [province] is under full control of terrorist groups. The evidence obtained by the OPCW includes only some photos of some canisters, WhatsApp messages and some soil samples from the alleged attack site that were handed over by some anonymous ‘activists’,” the ministry’s statement says.
The report also “clearly states” that all information about the Saraqib attack was in fact received “remotely from some NGOs, including the notorious White Helmets,” the statement adds. In fact, the entire OPCW account is based on witness testimonies and material evidence provided by selected NGOs as well as medical records offered by the same questionable sources, including the Belgium-based Same Justice/Chemical Violations Documentation Center of Syria (CVDCS), the Syrian Civil Defence (SCD) – better known as the White Helmets – and the US-based Syrian American Medical Society (SAMS).
Earlier, the former British ambassador to Syria, Peter Ford, characterized the report as "seriously misleading" and "deeply disturbing” in an interview with RT. He also noted that the White Helmets group is a "well-known jihadi auxiliary who have assisted in beheadings and who are notorious for making propaganda," and that SAMS shares "a similar reputation."
While the OPCW report did not assign responsibility for the attack, the White Helmets and SAMS have previously pointed the finger at Damascus. Earlier, such chemical incidents were also used by the US as a pretext to launch strikes against government facilities in Syria. The latest such strike came just last month following the yet unverified reports about the alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma.
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