LATEST: Full Translation Of Russian Foreign Ministry Statement On UN Chemical Weapons Investigation In Syria
The possibility of a US response inside Syria to Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack by the regime near Damascus has taken over the headlines, as the White House considers plans — first noted by EA on Friday — for airstrikes.
The National Security Council held a rare, three-hour Saturday meeting. Obama then remained in the office — itself unusual on a Saturday — and made phone calls to leaders such as David Cameron of Britain.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, on a trip to Malaysia, said, “President Obama has asked the Defence Department to prepare options for all contingencies. We have done that and we are prepared to exercise whatever option – if he decides to employ one of those options.”
The Administration also revealed that Secretary of State John Kerry had spoken to his Syrian counterpart, Walid al-Muallem, on Thursday “to make clear that if, as they claimed, the Syrian regime has nothing to hide, it should have allowed immediate and unimpeded access to the site” by United Nations inspectors, who are in a hotel in Damascus.
Officially, the White House line is that “the US intelligence community continues to gather facts to ascertain what occurred”; however, some officials have put out the signal that Washington knew on Tuesday that the Assad regime was moving chemical weapons stocks, although US intelligence did not know this was for an attack.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Sunday that there was “no doubt” that the Assad regime was behind Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack.
“The indications are totally convergent on the scale of the massacre and the overwhelming responsibility of the regime….As far as we are concerned, there is no doubt concerning the substance of the facts and their origin,” Fabius told a Jerusalem press conference.
Full Translation Of Russian Foreign Ministry Statement On UN Chemical Weapons Investigation In Syria
I have translated the full statement made earlier on Sunday by Moscow’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, as it appears on the Ministry’s website. A link to the statement is given below.
Statement by the Official Spokesman of the Foreign Ministry of Russia, A. K. Lukashevich, regarding the agreement of the Syrian Government to permit UN experts to the site of the possible chemical weapons strike in East Ghouta.
According to information from Damascus, the Syrian Government has given its agreement to a visit by UN experts to investigate allegations regarding the possibility that chemical weapons were used in the East Ghouta region, the location of the well-known incident of August 21 2013. This is the result of our working closely with Damascus.
We are satisfied with the constructive approach of the Syrian Government to establish an effective collaboration with the UN mission. This, in our view, opens up the possibility for conducting a thorough, impartial and objective investigation of all circumstances that occurred in the Damascus suburbs, which we strongly urge.
In this context, it is important that the the armed opposition, which controls part of the East Ghouta region, will create the conditions necessary for the mission’s experts to operate securely and that they will not dare to organize armed provocations against them, such as was the case with the UN observer mission last summer. We call on those who have influence on those illegal armed groups in Syria, to put sufficient pressure on them.
In this conditions, we once again strongly call on all those who are attempting to preempt the results of the UN experts’ investigation to exercise discretion and not make tragic mistakes. Politics regarding various crises must be built on the basis of international law and incontrovertible facts, rather than on assumptions conjectures that fit unilateral geopolitical projects.
[Editor’s Note: We have checked and Al Jazeera English’s translation does not appear to match the statement on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s website, which does not blame insurgents for the “provocation” of the chemical weapons attacks and does not mention the precedent of false information before the 2003 Iraq War.
EA’s Joanna Paraszczuk is translating the official Foreign Ministry statement.]
The full transcript of the statement of Russian Foreign Ministry Alexander Lukashevich is quite different from the extract offered by mainstream media, “We strongly urge those who by trying to impose their opinion on UN experts ahead of the results of an investigation…to exercise discretion and not make tragic mistakes.”
That implies that Russia, calling for an objective enquiry, is not casting any blame — far different from its line up to Saturday that insurgents may be responsible for Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacsk.
In context, however, the sentence fits a continuing attack by Moscow on the opposition and on countries supporting them:
We are alarmed by demands from Paris, London and other capitals to respond decisively to alleged chemical attacks by the Syrian armed forces in eastern Ghouta on August, 21 while ignoring many facts showing the attacks were a provocation from the irreconcilable opposition.
All this makes us recall the events from ten years ago, when using false information about Iraq’s possession of WMD as a pretext, the U.S. embarked on shady enterprises the consequences of which are well-known to everyone….
We are again calling for everyone not to repeat mistakes of the past, not to allow actions violating international laws.
Dr Anas Abdul-Razzaq Na’em, the Governor of Hama Province, has been killed by a car bomb, according to Syrian State TV.
Na’em, a Sunni who was the head of the ruling Baath Party until 2011, was reportedly killed in the al-Jarajmeh neighbourhood of Hama city on Sunday.
State TV blamed the attack on rebels.
“Terrorists assassinated…the Hama governor, in a car bomb attack,” it said.
Russia has apparently stepped back from its blame of the insurgency for Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had claimed that a home-made rocket was fired from an insurgent-held area, and Russian State media featured Saturday’s propaganda by the Assad regime that it had found an insurgent laboratory making chemical weapons.
On Sunday, however, the Foreign Ministry said — as UN inspectors prepared to visit the attack sites tomorrow — “We strongly urge those who by trying to impose their opinion on UN experts ahead of the results of an investigation…to exercise discretion and not make tragic mistakes.”
In another sign that Washington may be considering taking military action in Syria, a senior U.S. official — apparently by conference call to selected journalists — has said that the U.S. now has “little doubt” that Assad used chemical weapons against civilians last week.
Reuters quotes the official as saying:
Based on the reported number of victims, reported symptoms of those who were killed or injured, witness accounts, and other facts gathered by open sources, the U.S. intelligence community, and international partners, there is very little doubt at this point that a chemical weapon was used by the Syrian regime against civilians in this incident….
We are continuing to assess the facts so the president can make an informed decision about how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons.
The Wall Street Journal adds this quote dismissing the Assad regime’s agreement to allow UN inspectors to the sites of the attacks:
At this juncture, the belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team is too late to be credible, including because the evidence available has been significantly corrupted as a result of the regime’s persistent shelling and other intentional actions over the last five days.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham in Aleppo have issued a video statement threatening Assad following Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack on East and West Ghouta.
The Supreme Leader’s office has issued a series of tweets on Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack near Damascus.
An initial condemnation of chemical weapons is soon followed by a claim that the real culprits are…the US and Israel.
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) August 25, 2013
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) August 25, 2013
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) August 25, 2013
— khamenei.ir (@khamenei_ir) August 25, 2013
The stream of tweets supports EA’s analysis that the hard line on Syria — blaming the insurgents for last week’s attack that killed at least 1,360 people — has come from Ayatollah Khamenei.
(Cross-posted from Iran Today)
Syria’s Foreign Ministry said on Sunday that the Assad regime has approved a visit by United Nations inspectors to the sites of Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacks near Damascus.
“An agreement was concluded today in Damascus between the Syrian government and the United Nations during the visit of the UN high representative for disarmament, Angela Kane, to allow the UN team led by Professor Ake Sellstrom to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Damascus province,” a Ministry statement said.
The agreement “is effective immediately”.
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Muallem said, “Syria’s readiness to cooperate with the UN investigators” was “to expose the false allegations of the terrorist groups accusing the Syrian forces of using chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta”.
An extract from the statement of the UN Secretary-General’s office:
The Mission is preparing to conduct on-site fact-finding activities, starting tomorrow, Monday, 26 August.
The Secretary-General notes the Government of the Syrian Arab Republic affirmed that it will provide the necessary cooperation, including the observance of the cessation of hostilities at the locations related to the incident.
Opposition sources say 400 tons of Gulf-financed arms have been delivered to Syrian insurgents via Turkey.
The source said the shipment crossed from the Turkish province of Hatay in the past 24 hours.
“Twenty trailers crossed from Turkey and are being distributed to arms depots for several brigades across the north,” said Mohammad Salam, an insurgent who witnessed the crossing from an undisclosed location in Hatay.
A senior officer in the Supreme Military Council confirmed the shipment.
The news fulfils EA’s prediction, made on Thursday, that the regime’s chemical attacks near Damascus would escalate Gulf military support for the insurgency, after months of tension over US reticence to provide arms.
Footage posted on Saturday shows insurgents from the Suqur As-Sham Brigade in Jabal Al-Akrad, Lattakia Province, being hit by a regime airstrike. Jabal Al-Akrad is north of Salma, an Alawite village captured by insurgents two weeks ago. The regime has been hitting the area with heavy airstrikes since the capture in an attempt to retake areas overrun by insurgents.
Footage from Friday shows airstrikes on Salma:
This video, from Saturday, gives an insight into the humanitarian situation in the Jabal Al-Akrad area, where many civilians including children have been displaced by the fighting:
A claimed audio statement from Jabhat Al Nusra leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani on Saturday calls for revenge against the Assad regime following Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacks in East and West Ghouta:
For every chemical rocket that has fallen on our people in Damascus, one of their villages will, by the will of God, pay for it. On top of that we will prepare a thousand rockets that will be fired on their towns in revenge for the Damascus Ghouta massacre.
The statement has been widely disseminated on Jihadist forums and social media networks including YouTube.
Golani frames the attacks in sectarian terms, as an attack by Alawites against Sunnis. He also refers to the international community, saying that they effectively gave Assad a green light to go ahead with the chemical attacks. The argument that the international community “sat back and watched” as Assad hit the Damascus suburbs with a chemical attack has been a common theme in Syrians’ responses to the attacks.
Golani accuses Assad of attacking the Ghouta region with chemical weapons after the international community gave him the go-ahead to do so, and that Islamic law allows the insurgency to respond equally. Golani vows to attack Alawaite towns in Syria with “1,000 missiles” because Sunni blood is not cheap.
Propaganda video by Islamist faction Harakat Ahrar As-Sham, showing the group delivering flour in Daraa.
The regime is continuing its bombardment of towns and villages in East and West Ghouta hit in Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack.
This footage from Douma on Sunday morning shows the moment a regime shell hits the town.
Smoke rises from Al Qaboun in Damascus on Sunday after a shell hit a mosque:
Regime rockets hitting Muadamiyeh As-Sham on Sunday:
Aftermath of surface-to-surface missile attack on Jobar on Saturday:
While SANA’s website is down, after being hacked by Turkish activists angry over Wednesday’s chemical weapons attacks in the Damascus suburbs in which over 1,360 people died, its Twitter feed is still up and running. The State news agency takes the time to invite Damascus children to a fun coloring-in day at an art gallery. Adults may prefer to attend a seminar on the “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”, or just chill at a pool party.
— SANA English (@SANA_English) August 24, 2013
Daraa Province media activist Abo Gamal (here seen sporting a new FSA scarf) presents a video showing a training camp session for insurgents in the Free Syrian Army’s Liwa Fajr Al-Islam.
(Note the small child present at the beginning of the video, and also present throughout, there for symbolic value.)
The Local Cordination the Comittees claim that 114 people were killed on Saturday, including 14 women and 10 children.
Of the deaths, 33 martyrs were in Damascus and its suburbs, 29 in Idlib Province, and 26 in Aleppo Province.
The Violations Documentation Center put the number of dead at 70,930 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 203 from Saturday. Of the dead, 53,607 are civilians, a rise of 157 from yesterday.
We noted on Saturday that Syria’s propaganda efforts, notably over Wednesday’s chemical weapons attack, had been limited because the website of State news agency SANA was down.
Now we know why — Turkish hackers have attacked the site to protest the attack, according to the Sabah newspaper.
Sabah says the hackers also destroyed the official websites of several Syrian State offices, including the Road Regulatory and Emergency Assistance Agencies.
SANA is still down this morning.