News Column

Russia, France Squabble Over Chemical Attack

September 18, 2013

The Star (South Africa)

MOSCOW: Russia and France sharply disagreed yesterday over a UN report into the chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds of people in Syria, underscoring the difficulties in reaching agreement on action at the UN Security Council.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the report had produced no proof that President Bashar al-Assad's troops carried out the August 21 attack.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius took the opposite view, saying the report left no doubt that Assad's forces were to blame for the attack. The US has also blamed Syrian government forces.

Lavrov acknowledged that the investigators' report proved chemical weapons had been used but that "there is no answer to a number of questions we have asked" including whether the weapons were produced in a factory or were home-made.

"We have serious grounds to believe this was a provocation," Lavrov said.

He said there had been "many provocations" by the rebels, adding: "They were all aimed at provoking foreign intervention."

Lavrov said the UN report should be examined not in isolation but along with evidence from sources such as the internet and other media, including accounts from "nuns at a nearby convent" and a journalist who had spoken to rebels.

Fabius challenged Lavrov's interpretation, saying the report was clear.

"When you look at the amount of sarin gas used, the vectors, the techniques behind such an attack, as well as other aspects, it seems to leave no doubt that the regime is behind it," Fabius said.

The group Human Rights Watch said rocket trajectories detailed in the report suggested they had been fired from a base belonging to the Republican Guard, run by Assad's brother Maher.

Drawing lines of presumed rocket flight paths back from two sites on opposite sides of the Syrian capital that were struck on August 21, it said they converged in the hills north of central Damascus where the Republican Guard 104th Brigade is based.

"This isn't conclusive, given the limited data available to the UN team, but it is highly suggestive," the group said. - Reuters

The Star

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Original headline: Russia, France differ on culpability for attacks

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Source: (c) 2013 Independent Newspapers (Pty) Limited. All rights strictly reserved.

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