Joint Investigative Mission likely to blame Assad regime for deadly April 2017 sarin attack
Concerned that a forthcoming report will blame the Assad regime for an April nerve agent attack in northwest Syria, Russia has vetoed the extension of the mission investigating the use of chemical weapons.
The Joint Investigative Mission of the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons was unanimously approved by the Security Council in 2015 and renewed in 2016 for another year. Its mandate expires in mid-November.
Last year the JIM concluded that the Assad regime carried out three chlorine attacks, and the Islamic State a mustard attack, in northern Syria. It is due to report by Thursday on responsibility for the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib Province, which killed at least 92 people and wounded hundreds.
The OPCW has already determined that “sarin or a sarin-like substance” was in a munition that landed on the town. Witnesses said a Russian-made SU-22 jet dropped the canister. Russia and the Assad regime have tried to deflect attention with a series of contradictory, unsupported explanations.
Moscow wanted to discuss the report before acting on the extension of the mandate, and its UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia unsuccessfully asked to postpone the vote: “Don’t try to create the impression that the JIM will be a dead letter unless we adopt this resolution today. We are ready to return to extending the JIM after the publication of the report and after we discuss it after the 26 of October.”
However, Russia has warned for weeks that it might block the continued work of the JIM, while being careful to say that this rested on the “quality of the report”, rather than its conclusions.
Eleven of the 15 Security Council members voted to extend the mandate. China and Kazakhstan abstained, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting no.
Free Syrian Army Announces Agreement for “National Army”
More than 30 factions of the Free Syrian Army have announced a unity agreement for a “national army”.
The accord, including the opposition’s interim government, was signed at a meeting at the headquarters of the Turkish forces in northern Syria on Monday. It proclaimed:
Unification of the administration of the crossing points in the area of the Euphrates Shield [the Turkish-rebel military operation in northern Syria] and its administration to be by the interim government, and all imports of the crossings will be collected in one treasury that is at the disposal of the government and distributed fairly to the latter, local councils, and the Free Syrian Army”.
The national army is initially to be established through the formation of three corps, with further development as factions are dissolved and brigades are organized.
Prime Minister: Economy Doing Fine
The regime’s Prime Minister Imad Khamis has declared that the Syrian economy is in good shape, despite losing more than 75% of its GDP during the 79-month conflict.
Speaking to journalists after the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, Khamis proclaimed said the government is committed to setting up plans to rehabilitate reoccupied areas, with development and investment projects. He said projects worth 186 billion Syrian pounds ($361 million) had been launched this year, including 23 billion SYP ($44.6 million) for districts captured from the opposition in and near Aleppo city in late 2016.
The Assad regime is now dependent on Russian and Iranian assistance to maintain the economy. More than 80% of oilfields are estimated to be in the hands of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, with the country’s largest field in eastern Syria taken by the SDF last weekend.
The World Bank estimates that reconstruction of Syria will cost hundreds of billions of dollars. Countries such as the UK have said that an international reconstruction program cannot be approved for Syria without a political settlement.