Security

OPCW warns Syrian regime over 2017's sarin attacks

By AFP

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Syrian regime soldiers stand near a damaged infantry-fighting vehicle near the entrance to a cave and tunnel system reportedly used by opposition fighters near Latamneh in Hama province on September 25th, 2019. [Maxime Popov/AFP]

Member countries of the global toxic arms watchdog on Thursday (July 9th) warned Syria they could take action after a probe explicitly blamed the Syrian regime for nerve gas attacks for the first time.

The executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) voted overwhelmingly to tell Syria it must declare all details about the facilities used to produce sarin and chlorine used in the 2017 attacks.

The move comes after the OPCW's new investigations team said in its first report in April that the Syrian regime's air force had used the two chemicals on the village of Latamneh in March 2017.

Only Russia, China and Iran voted against Thursday's decision at the OPCW's executive council, which includes 41 of the UN-affiliated body's 193 member states.

"It is a good result for international security and the fight against impunity," said French ambassador Luis Vassy, whose country introduced the motion.

"It is a success for this organisation, which is fulfilling its mandate."

Syria could have its own voting rights suspended under the maximum punishment allowed by the Hague-based organisation if it fails to take action within 90 days, diplomats said.

In extreme cases the OPCW can also refer countries to the UN Security Council for breaching the chemical weapons convention.

'Deep concern'

The motion condemned Syria's use of chemical weapons and expressed "deep concern" that the 2017 attacks showed the Syrian regime had failed to declare and destroy all its chemical weapons.

The resolution also gives Syria 90 days to "redress the situation" by declaring the facilities where the chemical weapons used in 2017 were "developed, produced, stockpiled, and operationally stored for delivery".

The regime must also declare all remaining chemical weapons it has, including sarin and chlorine, the motion said.

If Syria fails to comply, it will face a vote at the annual meeting of all OPCW member countries in November.

Syria has continued to deny the use of chemical weapons and insists it has handed over its weapons stockpiles under a 2013 agreement, prompted by a suspected sarin attack that killed 1,400 in Eastern Ghouta.

The OPCW investigations team found that two Syrian fighter jets dropped bombs containing the nerve agent sarin on Latamneh and that a helicopter dropped a barrel bomb full of chlorine on the village.

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