PHOTO: An infant victim of the Assad regime’s chlorine attack on Sarmin in Idlib Province in March 2015



Rebels Launch Offensive West of Aleppo

Russia has blocked further UN investigation of the Assad regime’s chemical attacks in Syria, saying that Damascus should carry out the inquiry.

After years of being unable to cast any blames for the attacks, a UN team has found since August that the regime was responsible for three attacks carried out in northwest Syria.

Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told a closed-door session of the UN Security Council on Thursday, “The conclusions of the JIM [Joint Investigative Mechanism] are not definitive, have no legally binding force and cannot serve as accusatory conclusions for taking legal decision.”

France, Britain, and the US hoped to persuade Russia to agree to a 12-month extension of the investigation’s mandate, which expires on October 31.

Insisting that the latest report of the team from the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is “full of contradictions and therefore, unconvincing”, Churkin said, “Damascus should carry out a comprehensive national investigation on chemical incidents confirmed by the JIM.”

The Ambassador also tried to divert attention away from the regime, “We want to have a much stronger mechanism, which would also be looking at the terrorist chemical threat,” adding that Russia wants any mandate to include attacks beyond Syria.

France’s Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters before the meeting:

Those responsible for using chemical weapons must be sanctioned. If the Security Council is not able to unite on the proliferation and the use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st Century, frankly, what is the use of the Security Council?

UN investigations began after the Assad regime’s use of sarin nerve agent on areas near Damascus in August 2013, killing more than 1,400 people. However, the Security Council guidelines prevented any assignation of blame.

The UN-OPCW investigation of nine later attacks has been able to conclude responsibility. Its third report, submitted in August, found the regime responsible for two chlorine attacks in Idlib Province — on Talmenes on April 21, 2014 and Sarmin on March 16, 2015. It also said Islamic State militants had used sulfur mustard gas.

The fourth report, submitted last Friday, said regime forces used helicopters to drop barrel bombs of chlorine gas on Qmenas in Idlib Province in March 2015. The helicopters flew from two bases where the 253 and 255 squadrons, belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade, were based.

See Syria Feature: UN Finds Regime Guilty of 3rd Chemical Attack

Russia Under Pressure, But Still No Sanctions

Since Russia and the regime renewed their bombing of opposition-held areas of Aleppo on September 19, Moscow has come under increasing political pressure, led by France.

Paris has accused Russia of complicity in the Assad regime’s war crimes, while the US and other powers have denounced Russian “barbarism”.

On Wednesday, the UN’s aid chief Stephen O’Brien — saying he was “incandescent with rage” — declared that the failure of the UN Security Council, and Russia in particular, to stop the bombing of eastern Aleppo was “our generation’s shame”.

“et me take you to east Aleppo this afternoon,” O’Brien said. “In a deep basement, huddled with your children and elderly parents the stench of urine and the vomit caused by unrelieved fear never leaving your nostrils, waiting for the bunker-busting bomb you know may kill you in this, the only sanctuary left to you but like the one that took your neighbor and their house out last night; or scrabbling with your bare hands in the street above to reach under concrete rubble, lethal steel reinforcing bars jutting at you as you hysterically try to reach your young child screaming unseen in the dust and dirt below your feet, you choking to catch your breath in the toxic dust and the smell of gas ever-ready to ignite and explode over you.

These are people just like you and me – not sitting around a table in New York but forced into desperate, pitiless suffering, their future wiped out….Peoples’ lives [have been] destroyed and Syria itself destroyed. And it is under our collective watch. And it need not be like this – this is not inevitable; it is not an accident … Never has the phrase, by the poet Robert Burns, of “man’s inhumanity to man” been as apt. It can be stopped but you the Security Council have to choose to make it stop.

Russian Ambassador Churkin said the account was “unfair and dishonest”, telling O’Brien to save the comments “for the novel you’re going to write some day”.

Despite the rhetoric, Moscow has been able to avoid any punishment for its attacks. Russia has blocked any action by the UN Security Council. The US has not moved beyond words, and the European Union has been stymied — including last week by members such as as Italy — from proceeding with sanctions.

See Syria Daily, Oct 21: EU Divided Over Sanctions v. Russia

Video: Pro-Assad Forces Recapture Town in Northern Hama

State media’s presentation of the recapture of the town of Souran in northern Hama Province on Thursday:

Souran was among four towns taken by rebels in an offensive along a 35-km (22-mile) front since late August, closing within 10 km (6 miles) of Hama city.

Over the past three weeks, pro-Assad forces — enabled by Russian airstrikes and helped by rebel in-fighting with the jihadists of Jund al-Aqsa — have regained a series of villages, including the fortified village of Ma’an.

Regime Officials: Rebel Mortars Kill Schoolchildren in West Aleppo

Regime officials say rebel mortars have killed three children and wounded 14 in western Aleppo city.

The regime’s police chief in Aleppo, Zuher Said Aldin told a Russian outlet, “There are no military units there, only schools. Nevertheless, militants carried out a strike on this area, moreover, when classes were underway. Innocent children were killed, they just wanted to study.”

State media earlier claimed six deaths in Aleppo and elsewhere.

Prominent writer and opposition activist Lina Sergie Attar wrote on Twitter:

Rebels Launch Offensive West of Aleppo

Rebels have launched an offensive west of Aleppo city.

Rebel factions had imposed a blackout over the area and objective of the offensive, but reports now indicate the Soura checkpoint has been captured. A cardboard factory and sawmills have been captured in the Minyan industrial district (see map), and rebels have moved into part of the Dahiyat al-Assad suburb (see map).

Now see Syria Feature: Rebels Launch Offensive West of Aleppo

Free Syrian Army Confirms Deaths of 3 Top Officers in Homs

The Free Syrian Army has confirmed the deaths of three of its leading officers in Homs Province.

The FSA said Colonel Shawqi Ayyub and Lieutenant Colonel Faisal al-Awad were killed during an inspection tour near the regime-controlled village of al-Mashrafa. During Ayyub’s funeral, regime warplanes attacked, killing Brigadier General Mahmoud Ayyub and 2nd Lieutenant Hazem al-Ashtar.

Shawqi Ayyab was the FSA’s commander of military planning in Homs.

UN: Assad Regime Blocking Aid to East Aleppo

The UN has said that it is the Assad regime blocking aid to besieged opposition-held areas of eastern Aleppo city.

Russia and the regime, which imposed a siege on east Aleppo in late August, have tried to maintain that rebels are preventing assistance and the departure of civilians from the area.

But the UN’s humanitarian advisor for Syria, Jan Egeland, said on Thursday that the regime had rejected the request to east Aleppo and to the East Ghouta area near Damascus as part of a plan for November.

Egeland maintained that Moscow was backing the plan, despite Russia’s bombing of a UN aid convoy on September 19.

He said the UN would try again to evacuate wounded and ill residents from east Aleppo:

We are not giving up. We had unanimous support from Russia, the United States and from all of the other countries in the room to try again. On all fronts.

France: Russia or Regime Carried out Idlib School Bombings

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has said that either Russia or the Assad regime carried out Wednesday’s bombings of five schools in Hass in Idlib Province in northwest Syria, killing at least 35 people, most of them school children:

Who is responsible? In any case it is not the opposition because you need planes to launch bombs. It’s either the Syrians – the regime of al-Assad -== or the Russians.

It’s yet another demonstration of the horror of this war, which is a war against the Syrian people, which we cannot accept.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry said earlier on Thursday that Moscow was not responsible for the attack on Idlib. Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov claimed video of the airstrikes was “doctored up“, with “more than ten edited fragments assembled together”.

At least 18 children and eight teachers were among the victims of the “parachute bombs” that struck the schools at about 10:45 am. A doctor who rushed to help casualties, Yusuf al-Taraf, was also killed.

More than 80 people were injured in the bombings.

Syria Feature: Russia Kills 26, Including 18 Children, in Bombings of Schools

On Thursday, pro-Assad airstrikes hit another school, this time in the Damascus suburb of Douma, killing at least seven people.

Rescuers save an infant from the Douma bombing:

Without casting blame, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was appalled by the Hass attack, which could amount to a war crime: “If such horrific acts persist despite global outrage, it is largely because their authors, whether in corridors of power or in insurgent redoubts, do not fear justice. They must be proved wrong.”

The UN envoy for global education, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, called on the Security Council on Thursday to “agree that the International Criminal Court prosecutor conduct an investigation into what I believe is a war crime”.