The Russian government issued a statement accusing assorted anti-Syrian government rebels of using chemical weapons in Aleppo, hours after refusing to participate in an international condemnation of both Damascus and the Islamic State for the same crime.
Fox News reports that the Russian Defense Ministry claimed on Friday that “ministry experts have found unexploded ordnance and fragments of munitions containing chlorine and white phosphorus on Aleppo’s southwestern outskirts,” home to much of the resistance in that city. Aleppo has become the focal point of the battle between the Syrian resistance and Kremlin dependent Bashar al-Assad, miles away from any Islamic State strongholds.
Russia released this statement hours after refusing to sign on to a statement condemning chemical weapons use in Syria by the Executive Council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), of which Russia is a member. The group, Reuters reported this morning, “voted on Friday to condemn the use of banned toxic agents by the Syrian government and by militant group Islamic State, a source who took part in the closed session said.” While Assad’s forces appear to have used chlorine weapons, the Islamic State is believed to possess sulfur gas.
Russia joined fellow rogue states China, Sudan, and Iran in voting against condemning the use of chemical weapons.
The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war and the fight against the Islamic State has continued for years, following Assad’s reported use of chemical weapons in 2013. Assad forces killed over 213 people in August 2013, on the first anniversary of President Barack Obama’s “red line” speech, in which he warned Assad that the use of chemical weapons was a red line he could not cross, else he face the wrath of the U.S. military. As President Obama did not react to this chemical weapons usage with the force promised, Assad has not ceased the practice.
Damascus did, however, deny the use of chemical weapons in that incident and agreed to do away with his chemical weapons stockpile in 2013.
In August 2016, the United Nations accused Assad yet again of using chemical weapons and keeping an undeclared chemical weapons stockpile.
The Islamic State has also reportedly used chemical weapons in both Syria and Iraq against Kurdish militias. The consistent reports of ISIS chemical weapons use led UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to warn last week that the use of these deadly agents is becoming a “weakening taboo,” and the world faces the possibility of chemical weapons use being “normalized in this or any conflict, present or future.”
The American military, which has placed special forces troops in Iraq to combat ISIS, has warned that there is reason to believe the jihadist organization is seeking an opportunity to attack Americans with chemical weapons. “We recognize this is real. They’re dead set on it. They would love to be able to use chemical weapons against us, against the Iraqis as they move forward,” U.S. Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said in September. He added that he did consider the Islamic State chemical weapons stockpile to not be especially worrisome: “it’s more of an irritant than anything else.”