Russia clashed with European nations in the UN Security Council on Wednesday over a report issued by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) blaming the Syrian air force for a series of attacks using sarin and chlorine on opposition-held town in 2017.
Moscow described the report as “baseless” by the time the Europeans demanded accountability for the Syrian regime action.
In a 82-page report issued April 8, the the global chemical weapons watchdog said the Syrian air force dropped bombs containing either chlorine or sarin on a hospital and open farmland in the central town of Latamneh, injuring over 70 people and killing at least three — a surgeon and two others.
The exchanges between Russia and the Europeans took place at the monthly meeting on Syria’s chemical weapons, which was closed, the Associated Press (AP) reported.
The group's investigative team noted that “there are reasonable grounds” to believe the perpetrators in Latamneh of the use of sarin on March 24 and 30, and chlorine on March 25, 2017, were part of the Syrian Arab Air Force, OPCW coordinator Santiago Oñate-Laborde said.
The investigation included interviews with witnesses, analyses of samples taken from the sites of the attacks, as well as review of symptoms reported by those affected and medical staff, along with examination of imagery, including satellite images.
For his part, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said UN disarmament chief Izumi Nakamitusu briefed the council, including on the findings of the OPCW report, and stressed that they were “deeply distressing.”
Dujarric said Nakamitusu reiterated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ position “that the use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, is intolerable and impunity for their use is equally unacceptable. It is imperative to identify and hold accountable all those who have used chemical weapons.”
Germany’s deputy UN ambassador Jurgen Schulz told the council: “Accountability is essential and impunity for these heinous crimes is not an option.”
Also, Estonia’s UN Ambassador Sven Jürgenson supported the report’s findings and condemned “the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime.”
After the report was issued, a Syrian Foreign Ministry official, quoted on state media, said: “Syria condemns in the strongest terms what was stated in the report,” and “categorically denies that it used toxic gases in the town of Latamneh or in any other Syrian city or village.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told the council that all of Syria’s chemical weapons were destroyed and accused the OPCW experts of “echoing baseless accusations” by some unnamed countries, “biases,” and preparing a report “without even the slightest traces of due diligence.”
According to AP, the report said that Syrian authorities repeatedly refused to cooperate with the investigation.