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10 Jul, 2013 13:55

Inquiry on Aleppo chemical attack met int'l standards, unlike West’s - Lavrov

Russia’s inquiry into the use of chemical weapons on Syrian territory was carried out in full accordance with international standards, unlike a similar evaluation by Western countries, says Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

On Tuesday, Russia submitted to the UN its analysis of the samples taken at the Syrian town where chemical weapons were used. Evidence studied by Russian scientists indicates that a projectile carrying the deadly nerve agent sarin was most likely fired at Khan al-Assal, west of Aleppo, by rebels, rather than government forces. 

Russia “guarantees” the quality of the analysis, which fully complies with the requirements set by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), Sergey Lavrov told a media conference on Wednesday, following talks with his Belarusian counterpart. 

In response to US doubts regarding the results of the analysis, Lavrov underlined that the samples of the chemical weapons had been taken at the very place where they were used and were delivered by Russian experts rather than passed through third-party hands.

“We submitted a full set of documents [to the UN]. That’s over 80 pages, including photographs and precise geographic coordinates [of places where samples were taken], procedures and results,” Lavrov pointed out. “We also guarantee that the samples were taken by experts who did not let go of them till they were delivered to the laboratory,” Lavrov said.

The evidence of the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime – which was provided by the US, Britain and France – does not provide information on where and when the samples they used for analysis were taken, Lavrov noted.

Besides that, their samples passed through many hands and some of them, as those Western partners said, were received from journalists, he observed.

In this image made available by the Syrian News Agency (SANA) on March 19, 2013, medics and other masked people attend to a man at a hospital in Khan al-Assal in the northern Aleppo province, as Syria's government accused rebel forces of using chemical weapons for the first time. (AFP Photo/SANA)

“All that totally contradicts the standards existing in the OPCW,” Lavrov stated.

Evidence studied by Russian experts indicates that on March 19 the rebels fired an unguided missile Bashair-3 at the northern Syrian town of Khan al-Assal, outside Aleppo, which has been under government control.  According to the findings, the shell used in Khan al-Assal was not factory-made and contained sarin – a highly toxic nerve agent.

Russia believes that the manufacture of the ‘Bashair-3’ warheads started in February, and is the work of Bashair al-Nasr, a brigade with close ties to the Free Syrian Army.

Moscow has no objection to making the results of its probe public, Lavrov pointed out.

[The conclusions of the inquiry] are quite convincing and I think that this should answer many questions,” he said.

Meanwhile, the opposition Syrian National Coalition denied Russian allegations that rebel forces used chemical weapon at the suburb of Aleppo. They insist that UN inspectors should be allowed to investigate the attack. 

British Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn told RT that “it’s got to be a good thing that Russia is going to put its evidence in front of the UN.”

Responding to comments from the US, Britain, and France that they have unconfirmed reports that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons, Corbyn said “the reports are either confirmed and the evidence is there, or it’s not, and anyone who has any evidence should hand it straight over to the UN.”

The usage of chemical weapons is inconsistent with the guiding principles and goals of the Syrian revolution,” Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the coalition said on Wednesday, as cited by Reuters. “Targeting civilians indiscriminately to achieve political gains is a common characteristic of the Assad regime,” he added.

The Syrian government and rebels have blamed each other for the March incident outside Aleppo that killed 26 people as well as for other alleged chemical attacks in the conflict-torn country. 

On Monday, the Syrian government invited two senior UN officials to Damascus to discuss allegations of the use of chemical weapons, adding that they discovered a rebels-linked storage site which contained piles of dangerous chemicals.

The UN Secretary General’s spokesperson described the offer as “a move in the right direction,” but did not say whether the organization would accept it. Martin Nesirky said the Syrian government needed to grant the UN team broad access across the country “without further delay and without conditions.”