US asks UN to set up Syria chlorine attacks probe
UNITED NATIONS, United States - Agence France-Presse
In this Oct. 8, 2013 file photo, a convoy of chemical weapons disarmament experts depart the Four Seasons Hotel in Damascus, Syria. AP PhotoThe United States on July 9 asked the UN Security Council to set up an investigative panel to identify those behind deadly chlorine gas attacks in Syria.
The panel comprised of experts from the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) chemical watchdog could be able to establish whether President Bashar al-Assad's forces are carrying out the attacks, as western countries claim.
A draft resolution presented to the 15-member council calls on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present recommendations within 15 days on the "Joint Investigative Mechanism" that would undertake the probe.
Investigators would be asked to "identify to the greatest extent feasible, individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemical weapons" in Syria, according to the draft obtained by AFP.
The team of experts would be allowed to travel to Syria, speak to potential witnesses and review all of the documents compiled by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Discussions on the text were to begin next week and it remained unclear when the draft resolution would be put to a vote in the council.
Pressure has been mounting on the Security Council to take action in Syria, where the war is now in its fifth year and has claimed more than 230,000 lives.
The United States told the council in May that it would seek to establish the impartial UN-authorized panel to attribute responsibility for the attacks.
That followed a report by the OPCW in January in which it concluded "with a high degree of confidence" that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on three villages in Syria last year.
But the OPCW did not attribute blame for the attacks, as its mandate does not allow for such determinations.
Britain, France and the United States have repeatedly accused the Assad regime of carrying out the chlorine attacks by using barrel bombs thrown from helicopters.
The three countries argue that only the Syrian regime has helicopters, but Russia maintains there is no solid proof that Damascus is behind the attacks.
Russia has said that it backs a move to determine who is responsible for the chlorine attacks and has been in talks with the US on the proposed resolution.
Diplomats said that while some progress was made toward setting up the investigation, the US decision to circulate the draft resolution would turn up the pressure on Moscow to agree to action on chlorine attacks.
Security Council diplomats in April met with Syrian doctors who gave graphic first-hand accounts of chlorine attacks.
A video of the doctors treating children after a chlorine bomb attack on the village of Sarmin in Idlib province left many council members in tears.