Evidence of mustard gas found as evacuation of Aleppo continues
Syrian authorities have provided the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with evidence of mustard gas use by militants in Aleppo province near the village of Maarat Umm Hawsh, according to an official representative of the Syrian national authority for the implementation of Chemical Weapons Convention.
Published: December 18, 2016, 8:21 am
Syrian authorities have provided the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) with evidence of mustard gas use by militants in Aleppo province near the village of Maarat Umm Hawsh, official representative of Syrian national authority for the implementation of Chemical Weapons Convention Samer Abbas said Sunday.
“We have presented the [OPCW] mission all the documents, they have been checked and accepted. Mission will come to Syria again to collect the samples which will be analyzed later,” Abbas told SputnikNews.
A new deal is meanwhile being negotiated between militants and the Syrian government to continue the evacuation of civilians. The deal includes an entire evacuation of eastern Aleppo, as well as two Shi’ite villages and two towns near the border with Lebanon. Both the rebels and Syrian government say they want the evacuations to continue.
Evacuations are set to resume shortly. “It was agreed to resume evacuations from east Aleppo in parallel with the evacuation of (medical) cases from Kefraya and al-Foua and some cases from Zabadani and Madaya,” said a Syrian government official.
Reporting from the Lebanese capital of Beirut Saturday, France24’s Adam Pletts explained that the deal “had been broadened” to include evacuations from the four towns.
“We have firstly Foua and Kefraya in Idlib province and these two towns were added to the agreement as of yesterday. And that was part of the reason that it broke down because we understand that evacuations didn’t start from those towns.
“But in this new arrangement, there will be an evacuation of wounded people from those [towns] and also from the towns of Madaya and Zabadani, which lie much further south on the Lebanese border. It’s actually something of a revival of a former agreement, these four towns having been in a similar arrangement back in January this year, allowing reciprocal aid in and out of one and the other,” said Pletts.
Meanwhile one of the most influential French newspapers, Le Figaro, found that at least 58 percent of the almost 90 000 poll respondents asked on whether Syrian President Bashar Assad should stay in power, agreed that he should remain president.
Assad is a guarantor of religious minorities in his country, but France’s Socialists have called for the removal of the Syrian president and has supported radical Islamist’s to overthrow the ruler.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, whose government is also a key backer of the opposition, said he had spoken more than a dozen times with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, on Friday. Cavusoglu and Zarif also took part in a three-way call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Saturday, Moscow confirmed.
But Turkish demonstrators gathered in Berlin, in the Neukölln district, waving signs and demanding “an end to the bloodshed”, waving Turkish flags to show their solidarity with the defeated militants in Aleppo.
According to Deutsche Welle, there was also a demonstration in London with some thousand protesters marching behind banners saying “Stop the killing!” and similar statements in English and Russian.
Dozens of medical staff took part in a “die-in” in Parliament Square to “end both indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians, hospitals and schools across Syria.” The doctors and nurses also demanded that the British government “conduct airdrops of aid”.
Earlier in the week, during the final EU summit of the year, Chancellor Angela Merkel accused the Syrian regime and its Russian and Iranian allies of “war crimes”, echoing a US bill that would have sanctioned Syrian president Bashar al-Assad for war crimes.
The Caesar Syria Protection Act, named after a Syrian defector, initially had 50 mostly Democratic co-sponsors and was scheduled to be fast-tracked through Congress. But the bill was killed after militants were defeated in Aleppo.
Democratic and Republican supporters of the Syrian war crimes bill planned to push it through the House of Representatives under a special streamlined process in September. Now that Democratic leadership has pulled out of the agreement, the bill has essentially been hamstrung.
A White House source said Democratic leaders voluntarily chose to suspend the bill, but the fact is that their reversal coincided with Kerry’s ceasefire with Russia. The bill easily passed through the House Foreign Affairs Committee in July, the Daily Caller reported.
Islamic State gangs attacked Palmyra last Friday, December 9 and tried to seize oil wells and an air base near the city. In the evening of Sunday, December 11, outnumbered government troops pulled back from the central part of the city.
The Syrian army’s small arms and damaged military hardware that could have fallen into the hands of militants in Palmyra pose no threat to the US-led coalition, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major-General Igor Konashenkov told the Russian news agency TASS.
The Russian general responded to remarks by the commander of the international operation in Syria, Lieutenant-General Steven Townsend who had said on Wednesday that the Islamic State could have seized the armor, small weapons, heavy armaments and, possibly, air defense means in Palmyra.
“An insignificant quantity of small arms and several pieces of damaged military hardware left by Syrian servicemen in Palmyra cannot pose any threat to the international coalition,” the Russian spokesman noted.
“What should really bother General Townsend is the recent decision by the US Congress for the delivery of US man-portable air defense missile systems to Syrian militants in 2017. It is not difficult to understand in whose hands they will fall after their delivery to the Syrian territory. If someone beyond the Ocean hopes that this is a weapon of selective action and can be used only against the aircraft of one side, these are amateurish dreams,” he said.
He added that experience shows that “terrorist groupings can’t be tamed. Sooner or later, they bite off a hand of the giver. All this should concern General Townsend as a military professional,” Konashenkov said.
On Saturday, units of the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) thwarted another powerful attack by militants southwest of the strategic T4 (Tiyas) Military Airport in the eastern part of Homs province, Al Masdar News reported.
According to a military source at the T4 Airbase, the aforementioned terror group launched an attack in the area of Al-Fawaraa water wells. Repelling the assault, government forces managed to destroy 3 armoured vehicles, including 2 battle tanks, and 5 technical vehicles while also killing at least 20 ISIS militants in the process.
As a result, terrorists were forced to retreat.
The UN Security Council will vote on Sunday on whether it should monitor the evacuations from the besieged sections of Aleppo. In a draft developed by the French delegation, the text stated it “emphasizes that the evacuations of civilians must be voluntary and to final destinations of their choice, and protection must be provided to all civilians who choose or who have been forced to be evacuated and those who opt to remain in their homes,” according to Reuters.
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