Russia blocks inquiry which can assign responsibility for attacks that killed 85+ on Saturday
UPDATE 1535 GMT: In a bold propaganda statement, Russia’s Foreign Ministry has both challenged a possible US military intervention and used it to cover up possible Russian destruction of evidence of last Saturday’s chemical attacks on Douma.
Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said:
Are the OPCW inspectors aware that smart missiles are about to destroy all evidence of the chemical weapons use on the ground? Or is that the actual plan – to cover up all evidence of this fabricated attack with smart missile strikes, so that international inspectors had no evidence to look for?
Opposition activists say Russian personnel deployed near the claimed sites of the chemical attacks earlier this week to remove material that might be related to Saturday’s assaults with chlorine and a stronger agent, before Moscow said it would allow OPCW access — under limited conditions — to the the town.
UPDATE 1215 GMT: Continuing his abrupt shift against Russia and Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump threatens Moscow with a military attack on the Assad regime’s facilities:
Russia vows to shoot down any and all missiles fired at Syria. Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!” You shouldn’t be partners with a Gas Killing Animal who kills his people and enjoys it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 11, 2018
UPDATE 1055 GMT: The World Health Organization says about 500 people were treated in Douma’s health facilities with “signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to toxic chemicals” after the Assad regime’s attacks on Saturday.
“WHO demands immediate unhindered access to the area to provide care to those affected, to assess the health impacts and to deliver a comprehensive public health response,” Peter Salama, the Deputy Director General for emergency preparedness and response, said in Geneva.
UPDATE 1045 GMT: Showing concern over possible military action against the Assad regime — and rewriting Russia’s veto of a full inquiry into the chemical attacks on Douma — Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said:
The situation around Syria is rather tense. You know about the disagreements on the topic of the alleged use of chemical weapons there. Russia absolutely disagrees with this and calls for an unbiased investigation before delivering verdicts.
Hopefully, all countries will refrain from steps that, on the one hand, would be totally unwarranted and on the other hand, may exacerbate the already fragile situation in the region.
UPDATE 1020 GMT: Russia, through its Ambassador to Lebanon, has warned that it may shoot down US missiles and destroy launch sites — e.g. US warships — if Washington carries out strikes on Assad regime positions.
Alexander Zasypkin told Hezbollah’s al-Manar TV: “The Russian forces will confront any US aggression on Syria, by intercepting the missiles and striking their launch pads….The US and Western escalation against Syria will lead to a major crisis.”
The statement was then highlighted by Russian State outlets.
Russia has blocked a full investigation of the Assad regime’s chemical attacks on Douma near Syria’s capital Damascus last Saturday.
Moscow cast its veto in the UN Security Council to stop a US-drafted resolution for an inquiry by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which could assign responsibility for the attacks, which killed at least 85 people with chlorine and a stronger agent.
Last autumn, Russia blocked the extension of the OPCW’s Joint Investigative Mechanism after it found the Assad regime responsible for the April 2017 sarin attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northwest Syria, which killed about 90 residents and injured hundreds.
Twelve Council members voted for the resolution, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting against, and China abstained.
Russia’s veto was the 12th it has cast during the seven-year Syrian conflict to prevent action which could affect the Assad regime.
US Ambassador Nikki Haley said the resolution was “the bare minimum that the council can do to respond to the attack”.
But Russia’s Vassily Nebenzia responded, “Why do you need this mechanism when you have already appointed the guilty party before the investigation?”
A Russian text for an investigation with limited scope failed after the resolution was supported by only six members. Seven voted against and two abstained.
The draft would have required investigators to report to the Security Council, which might then assign responsibility.
Objectors to the resolution said the inquiry “would not be independent”, as members would had been appointed by Russia, and noted that “the body itself would not be able to apportion blame or identify perpetrators”.
Another Russian resolution which would have permitted an OPCW visit to Douma, but without any authority to ascertain responsibility, later failed to pass.
The OPCW has said it will try to establish the nature of the chemical attacks by interviewing witnesses and taking biological samples from survivors.
However, any on-site inspection may already have been hindered by the removal or disruption of evidence, which pro-opposition activists claim Russian personnel in Douma carried out at the sites earlier this week.
7 Iranians Killed in Israeli Strikes on Regime Base
The death toll of Iranian personnel killed in Israel’s airstrike on an Assad base in central Syria on Monday has risen to seven.
Israeli missiles, fired from jets over Lebanon, struck the T-4 base near Palmyra. The Israel Defense Forces also hit the base in February, saying Iranian controllers there had directed a drone flight intercepted over Israel.
“The Zionist regime’s attack on Syria will not go unanswered,” said Ali Akbar Velayati, the chief foreign policy advisor to the Supreme Leader, as he arrived in Damascus for talks with Assad regime officials.
The damaged T-4 base:
Russia’s envoy for Syria, Alexander Lavrentiev, met Supreme National Council Secretary Ali Shamkhani in Tehran on Tuesday to discuss developments. The meeting had not been publicly announced, and no details were given to the press afterwards.