At UN, Syria Tries to Divert Chemical Weapons Focus Onto Israel

By Patrick Goodenough | April 5, 2017 | 4:24 AM EDT

This photo provided Tuesday, April 4, 2017 by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, shows Syrian doctors treating a child following a suspected chemical attack, at a makeshift hospital, in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)

( – Hours after Tuesday’s deadly chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province, an Assad regime representative in New York said the Syrian government condemned the use of all weapons of mass destruction, and then tried to turn the attention onto Israel and other critics instead.

Speaking at the U.N. Disarmament Commission session, the delegate called chemical weapons use “intolerable and immoral” and pointed out that Syria is party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

“Ironically,” he said, Syria’s efforts in support of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction were being blocked by other nations, in their determination to preserve Israel’s nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

He directed this criticism specifically at France, whose delegate had earlier noted the latest chemical attack in Syria and recalled that international investigators already have blamed the Assad regime and ISIS for previous such “inhuman” attacks.

The Syrian delegate accused France of collaborating with Israel’s nuclear program in decades past, and of arming terrorist groups in today’s conflict in Syria, including with toxic weapons.

At the previous day’s opening of the U.N. Disarmament Commission’s 2017 session, Syria and its close ally Iran both accused Israel of introducing weapons of mass destruction into the region.

(On the same day, Iran was elected “by acclamation” – that is, no country objected or called for a vote – to the position of rapporteur for the 2017 session of the body, which deals with nuclear and conventional arms reduction and non-proliferation.)

“The Israeli regime introduced terrorism to our region – nuclear terrorism, chemical, biological and radioactive terrorism,” charged the Syrian representative, accusing Israel of providing toxic weapons and training to terrorist groups in Syria including the al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra.

Citing unspecified “international reports,” he went on to accuse Israel of using chemical and biological weapons “many times against the people in the region, in Syria, Lebanon and in Palestine.”

There is no record of any such non-conventional weapons use by Israel.

The Assad regime, meanwhile, is widely held responsible for the deaths of at least 1,429 people in a chemical attack in Ghouta, near Damascus, in August 2013.

Further, the U.N. and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have blamed the regime’s military for chlorine attacks in March 2014 and March 2015.

This photo provided on Tuesday April 4, 2017, by the Syrian anti-government activist group Edlib Media Center, that is consistent with independent AP reporting, shows a man carrying a child following a suspected chemical attack, at a makeshift hospital in the town of Khan Sheikhoun, northern Idlib province, Syria. (Edlib Media Center, via AP)

The OPCW said Tuesday it was now “in the process of gathering and analyzing information from all available sources” about Tuesday’s attack in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib province, which monitoring groups say appears to have killed scores of people.

Earlier, the foreign ministry in Damascus “categorically” denied responsibility. It said through the SANA state news agency that terrorist groups and their Western backers and affiliated media were spreading “fake accusations” against the Syrian military, “as usual.”

The U.S. and other governments around the world strongly condemned the latest chemical attack, which bore characteristics of sarin use.

It looks set to be the deadliest such incident since the Aug. 2013 Ghouta attack.

A year before that attack, President Obama had declared that the use of chemical weapons in the Syria conflict would be a “red line for us,” and after it took place his administration signaled its intention to respond with punitive airstrikes.

Instead, Russia agreed its ally in Damascus would hand over its declared chemical weapons, and the threat of U.S. military strikes was averted.

Syria then ostensibly surrendered all its chemical weapons stocks, including sarin, mustard gas and VX, and joined the CWC.

In his response to the latest attack, President Trump cited the “red line” episode.

“These heinous actions by the Bashar al-Assad regime are a consequence of the past administration’s weakness and irresolution,” he said in a statement. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing.”

The U.N. Security Council plans to discuss the chemical weapons attack on Wednesday, at the request of Britain and France.

“We obviously are very concerned about what happened with the Syrian chemical weapon attack so we'll be having an emergency meeting tomorrow morning in the open chamber,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley, who holds the council’s rotating presidency this month.

Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow