UPDATES WITH BRITISH FOREGN AND COMMONWEALTH OFFICE’S STATEMENT
By Abdullah Asiran
THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AA) - An international chemical weapons watchdog expressed “grave concern” on Wednesday over the alleged use of such prohibited weapons in Syria.
In a statement, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said the agency’s fact-finding mission would continue investigating "all credible allegations and provide reports" over the alleged used of chemical weapons in Syria.
The mission's report will take into account corroboration between interviewee testimonies, open-source research, medical reports and other relevant documentation as well as the characteristics of any samples obtained by the mission, it said.
OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu said: “Any use of chemical weapons is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and the hard-won international norm prohibiting these weapons.
“Those responsible for their use must be held accountable. These abhorrent weapons have no place in the world today,” Uzumcu added.
British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) also expressed concerns over reports regarding the use of the chemical weapons in Syria’s besieged eastern Ghouta region.
In a statement issued to Anadolu Agency, the FCO said Russia, in 2013, promised to “ensure Syria would abandon all of its chemical weapons.”
- 'Deeply concerning'
“Since then, international investigators have confirmed the Assad regime has used chemical weapons in four separate attacks,” it said.
“Deeply concerning reports of multiple chlorine attacks in Eastern Ghouta continue; no fewer than three allegations in January alone,” the FCO added.
The FCO underlined that in 2016 “the Joint Investigative Mechanism found in three cases that the Syrian regime had used chlorine to attack civilians.”
“Should it be confirmed that the regime has used chlorine again, it would be yet another appalling example of the Assad regime’s blatant disregard for both the Syrian people and its legal obligations not to use chemical weapons,” it added.
The U.K. welcomes “the launch of an International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons in Paris on 23 January,” British Foreign Office said.
“The U.K. will continue to support a robust international response to hold all to account for chemical weapons use, seek justice for the victims of these abhorrent attacks and prevent any further attacks.”
- 'Gravely alarmed'
On Monday, the U.S. State Department said it is "gravely alarmed" over reports of chemical attacks by the Syrian regime.
“The United States is gravely alarmed by continued allegations of the use of chlorine gas by the Syrian regime to terrorize innocent civilians, this time in Idlib province near Saraqib," it said in a statement.
Emphasizing that the attack is the sixth reported instance in the past 30 days in Syria, the State Department urged the international community to demand Syria cease using chemical weapons.
Located in northern Syria near the Turkish border, Idlib was declared a de-escalation zone, according to a cease-fire agreement last May reached in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana.
The Syrian regime, however, has repeatedly violated the deal and has targeted residential areas in opposition-held, no-tension zones like Idlib.
Controlled by anti-regime armed groups, the province has been under intense airstrikes for the past two months. In January alone, 211 civilians were killed and 1,447 wounded.
Syria has been locked in a devastating civil war since March 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
While UN officials say hundreds of thousands of people have been killed in the conflict, regime officials say the death toll is closer to 10,000.