Washington (AFP) – A year after the rebel-held Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun was attacked with sarin, the United States and its European allies vowed that Bashar al-Assad will be held to account.
In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany and the United States also sternly criticized Russia for failing to strip its ally of his deadly chemical arsenal.
“Today marks one year since the heinous attack… where Assad’s forces unleashed sarin nerve gas with tragic consequences for hundreds of men, women and children,” they said.
“We condemn the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere,” said foreign ministers Boris Johnson, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Heiko Maas and US Acting Secretary of State John Sullivan.
“We are committed to ensuring that all those responsible are held to account. We will not rest in our efforts to seek justice for the victims of these abhorrent attacks in Syria.”
At around 7:00am on April 4, 2017, an air strike hit Khan Sheikun, a small town in northwestern Syria held by rebel fighters opposed to Assad’s Russian-backed regime.
According to a UN-commissioned report, many residents of the town suffered the symptoms of an attack from an illegal nerve agent and more than 80 or them died, convulsed in agony.
US President Donald Trump responded to the attack three days later, when US vessels in the Mediterranean fired 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.
But Assad has denied ordering the attack and Russia has continued to give him diplomatic cover at the United Nations, despite having agreed to help remove his banned weapons.
“In 2013, Russia promised to ensure Syria would abandon all of its chemical weapons,” the ministers said.
“Since then, international investigators mandated by the UN Security Council have found the Assad regime responsible for using poison gas in four separate attacks.
“Instead of fulfilling its promise, Russia reacted by using its Security Council veto to shut down the investigation.
“Each time a chemical weapon is used, it undermines the global consensus against their employment,” they warned.
“Any such use is a clear violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and gravely undermines the rules-based international order.”