North Korea’s Silence On Syria Strikes Raises Concern

North Agrees To Inter-Korean Talks Next Week - Seoul
FILE PHOTO  North Korean President, Kim Jong-Un             Photo Credit: STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

A day after US, French and British missiles slammed into suspected chemical weapons sites in Syria, authorities in North Korea — its longstanding friend — held dances in the street to celebrate founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday.

The North’s state media made no comment until Tuesday, three days after the strikes, when a line tucked away on the back page of the Rodong Sinmun newspaper merely chided the US for using the cause of “‘anti-terrorism’ as an excuse” for its actions.

The token response is a notable contrast to last year when it condemned a Syria missile attack ordered by President Donald Trump as an “intolerable act of aggression” that proved “a million times over” that its own nuclear weapons programme was the right choice.

At the time tensions were soaring on the back of a series of North Korean missile launches and the military operation was widely seen as a warning to Pyongyang.

But now the isolated country is on a charm offensive and looking to avoid controversy in the throes of a diplomatic rapprochement on the peninsula, analysts say, with leader Kim Jong Un due to hold a summit with the South’s President Moon Jae-in next week, ahead of talks with Trump.

For more than a month, the North’s KCNA news agency has barely mentioned the country’s nuclear capabilities, while its condemnations of actions by the US or the South have been couched in terms of “chilling the atmosphere for dialogue”.

It has not issued its habitual vociferous denunciations of annual US-South Korea joint military exercises.

Questions about North Korean relations with the US and South are off limits for visiting correspondents, as are the country’s weapons programmes — usually a safe topic as a source of national pride.

“North Korea will not want to issue any statement that provokes the United States at this point,” said Kim Hyun-Wook, a professor at Korea National Diplomatic Academy in the South.

The North aims “to make it difficult for the US to retreat from dialogue and go back to its hardline stance of military options and sanctions”, he added, and a diplomatic row over Syria could complicate talks between officials from both sides to set a venue, date and agenda for the summit.

The North’s own domestic audience is another factor, according to Andrei Lankov of the Korea Risk Group.

“Pyongyang is going to make some concessions to the US in the near future,” he told AFP.

“It will be more difficult to justify those concessions if North Koreans are constantly reminded of the evil nature of the US imperialists.”

‘Common struggle’ 

Ties between Pyongyang and Damascus go back a long way. Both diplomatic outcasts condemned by Western governments, they have consistently offered each other friendship and support.

Earlier this month the ruling Workers’ Party sent its Syrian counterpart a congratulatory message saying it was “very pleased” that under Bashar al-Assad’s leadership, “the Syrian army and people have achieved great successes in the struggle to protect the sovereignty, dignity and territorial integrity of the country”.

They waged a “common struggle for independence against imperialism”, it added, according to the North’s official KCNA news agency.

For his part, Assad was one of only two foreign heads of state to send floral tributes to the current Kimilsungia flower show in Pyongyang, part of the North’s celebrations for the anniversary of the birth of its founder.

Syria and the North both stand accused by the West of using chemical weapons — in the case of Pyongyang, in the assassination of leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother at a Malaysian airport last year.

They have longstanding arms trade ties, and a UN panel of experts has found evidence of military cooperation by North Korea to develop Syria’s chemical weapons programmes.

But despite the mild response to Saturday’s strikes on Syria, analysts say they will reinforce the North’s belief that it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself from the US.

Pyongyang regularly cites the fates of Saddam Hussein in Iraq — with which it was included in George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” — and Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi, who voluntarily gave up his nuclear programme, as evidence in its favour.

A US-led coalition invaded Iraq the year after Bush coined the term, and Saddam was later hanged, while Kadhafi was ousted and killed in a NATO-backed uprising.

“In North Korea’s view, even if Pyongyang denuclearised the US could still launch a strike if it wasn’t happy about something,”  said Koh Yu-hwan, professor of North Korean Studies at Dongguk University.

“It provides more reason for North Korea to oppose ‘denuclearisation-first’.”

AFP

‘Mission Accomplished!’ After Syria Strikes, Says Trump

United States’ President, Donald Trump, addresses the nation on the situation in Syria April 13, 2018 at the White House in Washington, DC. Trump said strikes on Syria are underway. Mandel NGAN / AF

 

President Donald Trump triumphantly declared “Mission Accomplished!” on Saturday following a US-led missile assault on the Syrian regime and warned another attack could follow if Damascus were to unleash more chemical weapons.

The combined US-French-British operation, which saw more than 100 cruise missiles smash into three chemical weapons facilities early Saturday, earned quick scorn from Russia, which pushed for a vote at the UN Security Council condemning the strikes.

Trump and his allies ordered the pre-dawn mission in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack a week ago on the rebel-held town of Douma that left more than 40 people dead.

Both the regime of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and its ally Russia have denied all responsibility for the April 7 attack, and Moscow slammed the “aggressive actions” of the Western coalition, but it has not yet responded militarily.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned her UN counterparts that although the mission was designed as a one-off, that did not preclude further action against Assad.

“I spoke to the president this morning and he said: ‘If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,'” Haley said at emergency Security Council talks.

“When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.”

‘ Perfectly executed’ 

The sounds of massive explosions rang out across Damascus just before dawn Saturday, ushering in 45 minutes of explosions and the roar of warplanes.

“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military,” Trump tweeted early Saturday.

“Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

Trump drew some criticism for his choice of words: former president George W. Bush notoriously stood on an aircraft carrier just a few weeks after the initial Iraq invasion in 2003 in front of a “Mission Accomplished” banner.

“We met our objectives. We hit the sites, the heart of the chem weapons program. So it was mission accomplished,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White later said.

The targets included a scientific research facility near Damascus, a chemical weapons storage facility west of the city of Homs, and a third location near Homs that contained both a command post and a chemical weapons equipment storage facility, the US military said.

The facilities hit had however reportedly been evacuated in recent days.

Syrian state media reported only three people injured, while Russia’s defense ministry said there were “no victims” among Syrian civilians and military personnel.

According to US officials, the operation comprised three US destroyers, a French frigate and a US submarine. The vessels were located in the Red Sea, the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean.

A top Pentagon official, Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie, said the action would set back Syria’s chemical weapons program “for years” but he noted a “residual” element remained.

“I’m not going to say that they are going to be unable to continue to conduct a chemical attack in the future,” McKenzie said.

“I suspect, however, they’ll think long and hard about it based on the activities of last night.”

‘Crimes of a monster’ 

“The evil and the despicable attack left mothers and fathers, infants and children thrashing in pain and gasping for air,” Trump said as he announced the joint action against Assad’s regime from the White House late Friday, in a primetime televised address

“These are not the actions of a man. They are crimes of a monster instead.”

The strikes were the biggest foreign military action so far against Syria’s regime.

US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis called the strikes a “one-time shot” with no additional military action planned for now.

Assad, who has denied ever using chemical weapons against his opponents, responded to the strikes with a defiant vow.

“This aggression will only make Syria and its people more determined to keep fighting and crushing terrorism in every inch of the country,” he said.

Assad’s key ally Iran also slammed the attack, with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei describing Western leaders as “criminals.”

The targets appeared to steer well clear of any Russian personnel or equipment in Syria, where Moscow launched a military intervention in support of Assad in 2015.

The Russian military claimed Syrian air defense systems had intercepted 71 Western missiles, though the Pentagon flatly dismissed the claim and said all missiles hit their targets.

Rally in Damascus

In central Damascus, dozens of Syrians arrived on bicycles, on foot and in cars spray painted with the red, white, and black colors of the Syrian flag, blaring patriotic tunes.

Nedher Hammoud, 48, claimed to have seen missiles “being shot down like flies.”

“Let them do what they want, kill who they want… History will record that Syria shot down missiles — and not just missiles. It shot down American arrogance.”

Despite the strikes, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said it was still planning on carrying out its investigation into the Douma attack.

Thousands of rebels and civilians have since been bussed out of the town under a Russian-brokered deal. Syrian internal security forces entered Douma on Saturday and were poised to declare their control over it within “hours.”

Jaish al-Islam, the group that held Douma, said it only abandoned the town because of the chemical attack.

UN chief urges restraint

The Russian military had vowed to respond to any attack, and President Vladimir Putin’s administration had repeatedly warned Trump was taking America down a dangerous path.

Despite the warnings, Washington, Paris and London insisted their own secret intelligence belied Assad’s guilt. A US spokeswoman said Friday the allies had “proof.”

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for restraint in comments Saturday before the Security Council.

“At this critical juncture, I call on all member states to act consistently with the charter of the United Nations and with international law, including the norms against chemical weapons,” he said.

AFP

World Powers React To Syria Strikes

The United States, Britain and France carried out a wave of punitive strikes against Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian regime on Saturday, April 14, 2017 in response to alleged chemical weapons attacks that President Donald Trump branded the “crimes of a monster.”/ AFP

 

Here is a roundup of key reactions to the strikes by the United States, Britain, and France against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad: 

 Syria 

“The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the brutal American-British-French aggression against Syria, which constitutes a flagrant violation of international law,” the foreign ministry said.

The United States 

“A perfectly executed strike last night. Thank you to France and the United Kingdom for their wisdom and the power of their fine Military,” US President Donald Trump tweeted.

“Could not have had a better result. Mission Accomplished!”

US Ambassador Nikki Haley warned her UN counterparts that although the mission was designed as a one-off, that did not preclude further action against Assad.

“I spoke to the president this morning and he said: ‘If the Syrian regime uses this poisonous gas again, the United States is locked and loaded,'” Haley said at emergency Security Council talks.

“When our president draws a red line, our president enforces the red line.”

Russia 

“Russia severely condemns the attack on Syria where Russian military are helping the lawful government in the fight with terrorism,” the Kremlin said in a statement. It said it was calling an emergency session of the United Nations Security Council.

China

China said it was “opposed to the use of force” in international relations. It called for a political solution and a “return to the framework of international law”.

Iran 

Assad’s key regional ally, Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, branded US President Donald Trump, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Britain’s Theresa May “criminals”.

 Israel

“A year ago I gave Israel’s total support for (US) President Donald Trump’s decision to mobilise against the use of chemical weapons,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to American strikes against the Syrian regime in April 2017 after a sarin gas attack on a rebel-held town.

“Israel’s support remains unchanged,” he added.

Middle East/North Africa 

Qatar was the first Gulf country to react. An official statement expressed support for strikes to stop attacks by the Syrian regime against civilians.

Egypt’s foreign ministry expressed “deep concern” saying the strikes undermined the “safety of our brotherly Syrian people, and threatens the understandings reached regarding the de-escalation zones.”

Algerian Foreign Minister Ahmed Ouyahia said his country regretted that the strikes came “at a time when the international community was waiting for an inquiry team to be sent to verify” the chemical arms claims.

“These strikes will create an atmosphere which will weigh negatively on moves to resolve the Syrian crisis through a political settlement.”

NATO 

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in a statement backed the strikes, saying they “will reduce the regime’s ability to further attack the people of Syria with chemical weapons”.

NATO expressed “full support for this action intended to degrade the Syrian regime’s chemical weapons capability and deter further chemical weapon attacks against the people of Syria,” the alliance said in second statement.

“Chemical weapons cannot be used with impunity or become normalized. They are an immediate danger to the Syrian people and to our collective security.”

United Nations

“I urge all member states to show restraint in these dangerous circumstances and to avoid any acts that could escalate the situation and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in a statement.

Saudi Arabia

“Saudi Arabia fully supports the strikes launched by the United States, France and Britain against Syria because they represent a response to the regime’s crimes,” a foreign ministry statement said.

The strikes were prompted by the “Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against innocent civilians, including women and children”, it added.

 Turkey 

“We welcome this operation which has eased humanity’s conscience in the face of the attack in Douma,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement. It accused Damascus of “crimes against humanity”.

Europe 

European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that the European Union supported the strikes and “will stand with our allies on the side of justice”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called the strikes a “necessary and appropriate military intervention”.

The Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Slovenia and Spain defended the strikes as justified by evidence of a chemical attack.

Cuba 

“Cuba’s Revolutionary government expresses its strongest condemnation of this new attack by the United States and its allies” against “military and civilian infrastructure”.

The strikes are “a flagrant violation of the principles of international law and the charter (of the UN Security Council) and an outrage against a sovereign state which will only worsen the conflict in (Syria) and the region,” it added.

Amnesty International 

“All precautions must be taken to minimise harm to civilians in any military action,” Raed Jarrar, advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at rights watchdog Amnesty International USA said in a statement.

UN Security Council Rejects Russia’s Resolution Condemning Strikes On Syria

 

UN Security Council Rejects Russia's Resolution Condemning Strikes On Syria
The UN Security Council holds a vote on Russian proposed draft resolution that would “condemn the aggression against Syria by the U.S. and its allies” during a United Nations Security Council emergency meeting concerning the situation in Syria, at United Nations headquarters, April 14, Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

Russia on Saturday failed to win UN backing for a condemnation of military strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France on Syria in retaliation for an alleged chemical weapons attack.

A Russian-drafted resolution won three votes at the Security Council, far below the nine votes required for adoption. Eight countries voted against and four abstained.

The Russian measure would have condemned the “aggression” against Syria and demanded that the three allies refrain from any further strike.

The vote was held after the United States warned that it was “locked and loaded,” ready to launch more military strikes on Syria if President Bashar al-Assad’s forces carry out a new chemical weapons attack.

Britain argued that the strikes were “both right and legal” to alleviate humanitarian suffering from repeated use of toxic gas in attacks in Syria’s seven-year war.

The United States, Britain and France launched air strikes in response to a suspected chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma a week ago that killed at least 40 people.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia accused the West of “hooliganism” and demanded that it “immediately end its actions against Syria and refrain from them in the future.”

“You are not only placing yourselves above international law, but you are trying to re-write international law,” Nebenzia said after the vote.

China and Bolivia supported the Russian measure, while the three allies along with Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland, Kuwait and Ivory Coast opposed it. Peru, Kazakhstan, Ethiopia and Equatorial Guinea abstained.

Most serious threat

Air strikes by the allies on Saturday hit three targets that Western officials said were linked to chemical weapons development in the Damascus and Homs areas.

Addressing told the council, Haley said the United States was confident that the military strikes had crippled Syria’s chemical weapons program.

“We are prepared to sustain this pressure, if the Syrian regime is foolish enough to test our will,” she said.

Moving to return to diplomacy, France said it was working with the United States and Britain on a draft resolution that would address chemical weapons use, the humanitarian crisis and the future of the peace process in Syria.

The measure would provide for the creation of an inquiry to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, allow access for aid convoys and re-launch stalled peace talks in Geneva, French diplomats said.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who delayed a trip to Saudi Arabia to deal with the Syria crisis, said he had asked special envoy Staffan de Mistura to return to New York as soon as possible to chart a way forward.

Addressing the council, Guterres urged all countries to uphold international law and warned that “Syria today represents the most serious threat to international peace and security.”

The United States, Britain and France have argued that military action was necessary after Assad’s forces had used toxic gases multiple times in violation of international law.

Russia has countered that the US-led action was aimed at overthrowing Assad and keeping Moscow’s influence in check.

AFP

Syria Strikes: British Prime Minister Faces Backlash For Bypassing Parliament

 

Syria Strikes: British Prime Minister Faces Backlash For Bypassing Parliament
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May gives a press conference at Downing Street in central London on April 14, 2018, following British military action against Syria. Photo: SIMON DAWSON/POOL/AFP

 

British Prime Minister Theresa May faced a backlash from the domestic opposition after launching military strikes Saturday on Syria without consulting parliament.

As the Conservative leader explained her rationale for the airstrikes, opposition parties claimed the attacks were legally dubious, risked escalating conflict and should have been approved by lawmakers.

The shadow of the 2003 invasion of Iraq still lingers in the corridors of Britain’s parliament, when MPs backed then-prime minister Tony Blair in joining US military action.

“Bombs won’t save lives or bring about peace,” said Jeremy Corbyn, the veteran leftist leader of the main opposition Labour Party.

“This legally questionable action risks escalating further… an already devastating conflict.

“Theresa May should have sought parliamentary approval, not trailed after Donald Trump.”

Corbyn later wrote to May seeking assurance that there would be no further bombing raids and urged the government to negotiate a pause in the Syrian civil war.

Stop the War, a pacifist coalition once chaired by Corbyn, has called a demonstration outside the British parliament on Monday to protest about the strikes.

The group said it “strongly condemned” the action and accused May of “sanctioning killing” at US President Donald Trump’s behest.

Often when the British government decides on military action, the opposition offers its full support. However, that has been less the case in recent years.

British MPs voted down taking military action against Damascus in 2013, in what was widely viewed as an assertion of parliamentary sovereignty on the use of force.

David Cameron, who was prime minister in 2013, tweeted on Saturday: “As we have seen in the past, inaction has its consequences”.

Lawmakers backed action in Iraq in 2014, and again in Syria in 2015, strictly limiting strikes in both countries to targets of the Islamic State jihadist group.

The rush to action following an alleged chemical weapons attack on the rebel-held town of Douma on April 7 was condemned by several British opposition parties who wanted parliament recalled.

It returns from its break on Monday, when May will face MPs’ questions on the strikes.

‘Dangerous escalation’

Deploying the armed forces is a prerogative power, meaning the prime minister can launch action without backing from MPs.

But after the Conservatives entered office in 2010, the government suggested that since the 2003 vote on Iraq, a convention had emerged that MPs should have a say, except in cases of emergency.

In attacks alongside US and French allies on Saturday, four British Tornado jets fired Storm Shadow missiles at a Syrian military base suspected of holding chemical weapons components. The strikes at 0100 GMT were 15 miles (24 kilometres) west of Homs.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said Syria’s use of chemical weapons could not be tolerated but questioned whether the strikes would halt their use or contribute to ending the civil war.

“This action risks not just further escalating the civil war in Syria but also a dangerous escalation of international tensions,” said the leader of the left-wing Scottish National Party, the third-biggest force in the British parliament.

Riding Trump’s coat-tails

Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the fourth-biggest party in parliament, accused May of “riding the coat-tails of an erratic US president”.

“It shows a weak government putting short-term political expediency before democracy and in so doing further diminishing the standing of Britain in the world,” Cable said.

The Green Party, which has one MP, said May had “trampled over parliamentary democracy” and demanded a vote in the House of Commons on the strikes.

However, there was some support for May.

The centre-right Conservatives rely on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Ireland’s biggest party, for a majority in parliament.

DUP leader Arlene Foster said the airstrikes were “limited but proportionate and justified”.

Tom Tugendhat, the Conservative chairman of parliament’s foreign affairs scrutiny committee and a former army officer, said May had “taken the correct decision”.

Peter Felstead, editor of Jane’s Defence Weekly, said he did not think May would face a “serious backlash”, as the strikes ultimately were politically and operationally “the right thing to do”.

“Corbyn will rail against military action, claiming it could widen the conflict, but if he won’t sanction military action against a regime that is using chemical weapons on its own people, when would he ever sanction it?” he told AFP.

“If the West had acted against Assad’s chemical weapons attacks in 2013, we might not have had to embark on military action now.”

AFP

At Destroyed Syria Lab, Workers Deny Producing Toxic Weapons

 

At Destroyed Syria Lab, Workers Deny Producing Toxic Weapons
Journalists inspect the wreckage of a building described as part of the Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC) compound in the Barzeh district, north of Damascus, during a press tour organised by the Syrian information ministry, on April 14, 2018. Photo: LOUAI BESHARA / AFP

 

Plastic gloves and face masks lay scattered in the rubble of a Syrian research lab destroyed by Western strikes on Saturday, where an official denied the centre was developing chemical weapons.

US, British and French strikes slammed into a series of targets around Damascus that the Western countries said were linked to the Syrian government’s chemical weapons programme.

One multi-storey complex, in the capital’s northern district of Barzeh, had been completely reduced to rubble, AFP’s correspondents saw during a government-sponsored tour on Saturday.

Its roof had been punched down and several walls appeared on the verge of collapse.

Even hours after the strikes wrapped up, plumes of smoke wafted lazily up from the building and a burning smell still hung in the air.

“The building had three storeys: a basement, ground floor, and second floor,” said Said Said, an engineer who identified himself as head of the centre’s paint and plastics department.

“It had labs and departments that were unfortunately completely destroyed, with all their equipment and furniture. Thank God, no one was here,” he told AFP.

The bombardment, including both cruise missiles and air-to-surface strikes, hit Syria around 4:00 am on Saturday (0100 GMT), jolting people awake in the capital’s nearby residential neighbourhoods.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported several missiles hit a research centre in Barzeh, “destroying a building that included scientific labs and a training centre”.

‘Children’s toys’

The site, according to Western powers, was part of the Syrian government’s “chemical weapons infrastructure.”

But Said told AFP only non-lethal research and development was underway at the centre.

“As we work in civilian pharmaceutical and chemical research, we did not expect that we would be hit,” he said.

Instead, the centre had been producing antidotes to scorpion and snake venom while running tests on chemical products used in making food, medicine and children’s toys, according to Said.

“If there were chemical weapons, we would not be able to stand here. I’ve been here since 5:30 am in full health — I’m not coughing,” he added.

Saturday’s strikes came in retaliation for an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town east of Damascus one week ago, which medics say killed more than 40 people.

Inspectors from the world’s chemical watchdog were set to enter the town of Douma on Saturday to investigate the claims.

Said said the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had visited the site in Barzeh in recent years and had declared it free of any toxic weapons.

“The OPCW used to stay in the two upper rooms, and use the labs, and we would cooperate with them completely,” he said.

“The OPCW has proven in two reports that this building and the centre as a whole are empty and do not produce any chemical weapons.”

AFP

UN Security Council Meets On Syria Strikes

UN Security Council Meets On Syria Strikes
British Ambassador to the United Nations Karen Pierce looks on as United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley speaks during a United Nations Security Council meeting concerning the situation in Syria, at United Nations headquarters, April 14, 2018, in New York City.
Photo: Drew Angerer / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Saturday urged countries to uphold international law as the Security Council met to discuss military strikes carried out by the United States, France and Britain on Syria.

Russia circulated a draft resolution calling for condemnation of the military action, but Britain’s ambassador said the strikes were “both right and legal” to alleviate humanitarian suffering in Syria.

The United States, Britain and France took military action in response to an alleged chemical attack in the rebel-held town of Douma a week ago that killed at least 40 people.

Addressing the council, Guterres said: “At this critical juncture, I call on all member states to act consistently with the charter of the United Nations and with international law, including the norms against chemical weapons.”

Air strikes by the three allies on Saturday hit three targets that Western officials said were linked to chemical weapons development in the Damascus and Homs areas.

Britain’s UN ambassador Karen Pierce defended military action against Syria, saying it was “both right and legal” to launch strikes to alleviate humanitarian suffering.

The United States, Britain and France have argued that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces had used toxic gases multiple times in violation of international law.

Guterres renewed his call for an investigation to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks after Russia this week vetoed a US proposal to create such a mechanism.

AFP

Russia Denies Role In Strikes Killing Civilians In Syria’s

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks in Novosibirsk.
PHOTO: Alexey NIKOLSKY / Sputnik / AFP

 

The Kremlin on Wednesday denied involvement in air strikes on Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave that monitors say have killed at least 250 civilians since the start of the week.

“These are groundless accusations. It is not clear what they are based on. No specific data has been given. We do not agree (with them),” said presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov in response to a US briefing saying that Russia was responsible for the attacks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has also blamed Russian warplanes for the strikes.

Bombardment of the enclave on the outskirts of Damascus on Tuesday killed 106 civilians, including 19 children, the Observatory said.

It was the second straight day that the civilian death toll topped 100, after 127 were killed Monday in Eastern Ghouta’s bloodiest day in four years.

The strikes left an important hospital out of action, further limiting the little medical aid accessible to besieged civilians.

The rebel-held region is nominally included in a “de-escalation” deal meant to tamp down violence, but President Bashar al-Assad appears to be preparing troops for a ground assault to retake it.

The Russian military has fought a campaign for over two years in Syria, launched in September 2015 in support of Assad, helping to turn around the multi-front war.

AFP