US asks UN council to set up new Syria chemical attacks probe

An image grab taken from a video released by the Syrian civil defence in Douma shows unidentified volunteers giving aid to children at a hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town on April 8, 2018
AFP

United Nations (United States) (AFP) – The United States on Monday asked the UN Security Council to set up a new independent inquiry of chemical weapons attacks in Syria following alleged toxic gas use in a rebel-held town that killed at least 48 people.

Washington circulated a draft resolution to the council that would establish the UN panel to identify those responsible for poisonous chemicals attacks, according to the text obtained by AFP.

Nine countries including the United States have called for an emergency meeting on Syria that will begin at 3:00 pm (1900 GMT) to discuss a response to the attack in Douma.

Rescuers and medics in Douma say at least 48 people died after a “poisonous chlorine gas attack” late on Saturday in Douma, the last rebel-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta.

The proposed US measure was similar to one presented by the United States in March, which Russia then rejected, and it remained unlikely that the new text would win Moscow’s support.

The renewed US push to establish the United Nations Independent Mechanism of Investigation (UNIMI) comes after Russia killed off a previous UN-led probe in November by vetoing the renewal of its mandate.

Under the current draft resolution, UNIMI would be established for one year and work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to identify perpetrators of the chemical attacks.

The council would ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to outline within 30 days the operation of the panel “based on the principles of impartiality, independence and professionalism,” according to the draft text.

In January, Russia presented its own draft resolution setting up a new panel, but Western powers said Moscow’s proposal would give the Syrian government an upper hand over any investigation of attacks on its territory.

As the United States pushed for a new UN inquiry, US Defence Secretary Jim Matthis warned that Washington does not “rule out anything”, suggesting military action was possible in response to the alleged chemical attack.

President Donald Trump — who last year launched a missile strike on a regime base after another alleged chemical attack — warned after the latest accusations that there would be a “big price to pay.”

Russia and Syria have denied using chemical weapons.

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