‘Alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack would play into Assad opponents hands’

‘Alleged Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack would play into Assad opponents hands’
The April incident in Syria’s Idlib province plays into the hands of those seeking to overthrow Syrian leader Bashar Assad, or at least continue to destabilize Syria, said security analyst Charles Shoebridge.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has determined that the victims of a chemical incident in Syria’s Idlib province back in April were exposed to Sarin gas.

The latest statement from the UN-backed chemical weapons watchdog also points out that their fact-finding mission’s mandate does not include identifying the perpetrator. Moreover, their team was unable to visit the actual site of the attack.

The report’s conclusions are based on post-mortems and bio-medical samples collected from victims who were moved to “a neighboring country.” The release of the document comes just days after the Russian Foreign Ministry criticized claims from Washington alleging that Syria’s government is planning to carry out a chemical attack. 

RT:  When will we see proof of who was responsible for the attack?

Charles Shoebridge: This report hasn’t been made public. It has been leaked to various media, many of which have published what undoubtedly are selective statements from it. It was very interesting for me just to hear from the Russian government’s spokesman… that the report, which again, none of us really have had a chance to see or scrutinize, doesn’t give any evidence that it was dropped from an aircraft. The Russian government has, of course, received a copy [of the report] as a member of the OPCW… so it is in a good position to state that. But that fact wasn’t mentioned in any of the Western press reports that I read.

Also, there is only a short statement from the OPCW itself. It doesn’t want to reveal what’s in its statement, because, even on an organizational basis, its duty is to give its report to the stakeholders first. But already we can see that there are going to be great difficulties in this report, or any other report, because this will now go to an investigative mechanism overseen by the UN. It will be difficult for them to ascribe blame in a way that is convincing and credible, simply because the evidence, even from what we’ve seen, even from what was actually released at the time by such pro-rebel anti-Assad groups such as White Helmets, by doctors. For example, one of the doctors at the scene of this Khan Sheikhoun attack, who was quoted endlessly on Western media, was then revealed, of course, to have been struck off in the UK and actually charged with terrorist offences, before he went off and joined the rebels in Syria.

And so, really, one has to question the credibility and certainly the impartiality of witnesses. Certainly, the chain of custody that is so important to the integrity of any inquiry or investigation appears to be absent because the OPCW, perhaps for good reasons, security reasons – which says itself, of course, much about the situation there, that who is in charge in area of Khan Sheikhoun, the extremist rebels there – it is too dangerous for the OPCW to go and visit it themselves. And therefore, they’ve actually relied upon the collection of specimen samples and witness statements from, effectively, the rebel groups themselves, of course, opposed to Assad.

There are then questions about the autopsies carried out in a “neighboring country”... We understand that is Turkey. Turkey is itself, of course, a party to the conflict, again, in an anti-Assad role. Therefore, there are questions about reliability, credibility, and impartiality. Lastly, there are questions about the analysists themselves, because a lot of this analysis has been done by stakeholder laboratories, such as those in the UK, those in France and, again, these are parties to the conflict in Syria against Assad.

And so, already, without seeing the report itself, there are many questions and there will be many questions, as to the credibility of this report. Notwithstanding, as you say – it doesn’t have a mandate to ascribe blame – but, really, on the base of what we’ve seen so far, even if we take the rebel, White Helmets, etc. version as read, it is still difficult to see how blame could be ascribed to the Syrian government on the evidence of even what is claimed so far.

RT:  Why do you think Western officials are so willing to state that Assad’s government was responsible, even though this investigation has not reached a conclusion?

CS: It begs a question of what the attack is for, what the incident is for. We haven’t mentioned the issues of motivation. It’s come up again and again, and I’ll mention it again because it’s obvious, but it needs stating, and it is something that doesn’t appear to have been looked at in the report. And, again, that would be a subject for the investigation by the investigative mechanism which is yet to be announced. But, really, when you look at the situation that Assad is advancing in Syria, that he is winning with Russian, Iranian, Hezbollah help, that begs a question: why on earth would – especially just before an important Europe-wide meeting the day before and just days after Trump basically said that he wasn’t going to have as a priority the removal of Assad –  then this so-called attack should take place.

And using just one device and leaving very little in the way of physical evidence – for example, fragments of bomb, etc. – there were some fragments claimed to be there, but very little compared to what you’d expect from this kind of attack. And, also, a confused situation on the ground with regards to symptoms, many of which were not consistent – as claimed by the rebels at the time, and White Helmets, and so on – with what you’d expect from a sarin attack. But, clearly, this kind of incident – if it had genuinely  happened…– it would, of course, play very much into the hands of Assad’s opponents and those including not just the rebels on the ground, but countries like Britain and France until recently, and, of course, the Gulf states – all of whom are seeking to overthrow [Assad,] or at very least continue to  destabilize Syria. That would involve, I would say, provoking an intervention, which, of course is what we saw from Trump.

RT:  Some of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s doubts over the report stem from the fact that the OPCW didn’t send investigators to the site. Why didn’t it do that?

CS: Absolutely, and it goes to the very fundamental core of integrity of this investigation that no independent person visited the scene and took independent witness statements without, perhaps, coercion from extremist rebels that control that area. The extremists there are linked to what might be called loosely Al-Qaeda affiliated groups. The White Helmets themselves, of course, are chief witnesses in this incident, as they were in other incidents where Assad has been blamed. The White Helmets, of course, a UK-US funded so-called rescue group that seem, actually, to have as their priority the issuing of the last few years of a constant stream of anti-government, anti-Assad propaganda. And, again, serving UK-US interest – funded incidentally from a secret fund of the UK government that isn’t even open to scrutiny by UK MPs, as was revealed only a few months ago. When you look at the situation that the OPCW could not for security reasons go there, one wonders why they could not just have said “because we are unable to carry out an independent investigation, we won’t give our name to this investigation.” The investigation has been, although it has been assessed by OPCW officials, it is only on the basis of information and evidence that has been given to them by a party to this conflict, and that, of course, goes to the core of its integrity.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.