Russia wants chemical watchdog in Aleppo

  • 12/11/2016
A street in Aleppo (Reuters/File)
A street in Aleppo (Reuters/File)

The executive body of the global chemical weapons watchdog have voted to condemn the use of banned toxic agents by the Syrian government and by militant group Islamic State.

Roughly two-thirds of the 41 members on the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), endorsed a US-tabled text, a source who took part in the closed session says.

On the same day, the Russian Defence Ministry said it wants the OPCW to urgently send a mission to Aleppo, saying it had evidence Syrian opposition rebels had used chemical weapons there.

The ministry has found evidence that there's a high probability rebels used chlorine gas and white phosphorous on the south-west edge of Aleppo in district 1070.

Major-General Igor Konashenkov said Russia would now hand over the evidence to the OPCW and wanted The Hague-based body to urgently send a team to Aleppo to gather its own evidence.

The OPCW's Executive Council, which meets behind closed doors, seldom votes on such matters, generally operating through consensus. But this text was supported by 28 members, including Germany, France, the United States and Britain.

It was opposed by Russia, China, Sudan and Iran.

There were nine abstentions. Russia and Iran are Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's main allies against rebels seeking to overthrow him. Western and Gulf Arab states back the rebels.

The US-Russian split over Syria was striking as it was those two countries that in 2013 took the lead in getting the Damascus government to join the OPCW and avert threatened US-led military intervention in Syria's civil war.

A 13-month international inquiry by the OPCW and United Nations concluded in a series of reports that Syrian government forces, including helicopter squadrons, were responsible for the use of chlorine barrel bombs against civilians.

The OPCW-UN mission found that the Syrian government carried out three toxic attacks in March and April of last year, while Islamic State militants had used sulphur mustard gas.