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Russia, Syria under pressure at chemical weapons watchdog

Syria and Russia faced renewed pressure over allegations of chemical weapons use as member countries of the global toxic arms watchdog met on Monday.

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Syria and Russia faced renewed pressure over allegations of chemical weapons use as member countries of the global toxic arms watchdog met on Monday.

Moscow was urged by Western nations to “transparently” reveal the circumstances of the Novichok nerve agent poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny.

Damascus meanwhile faced calls for sanctions at the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) after investigators accused the Syrian regime of sarin attacks in 2017.

Russia and Syria have repeatedly denied the accusations, alleging that Western powers have politicised the Hague-based OPCW.

Read more: Chemical arms watchdog says Syria probe leakers ‘not whistleblowers’

Syria had failed to meet 90-day deadline set in July to declare the weapons used in the 2017 attacks on the village of Lataminah and to reveal its remaining stocks, OPCW chief Fernando Arias said.

“The Syrian Arab Republic has not completed any of the measures,” Arias told the meeting.

“Gaps, inconsistencies and discrepancies” remained in Syria’s account of its progress on its 2013 agreement to give up all chemical weapons following a suspected sarin attack that killed 1,400 people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he said.

France proposed that the OPCW should “suspend the rights and privileges” of Syria for failing to meet the deadline, French ambassador Luis Vassy said, adding that the proposal was backed by 43 states.

These would include Syria’s voting rights in the OPCW, depriving it of a voice at a body where it has been deflecting allegations of toxic arms use for years.

Cancerous tumour

Russia meanwhile came under pressure over the poisoning in August of Navalny. Navalny himself and western governments have blamed the attack on the Kremlin.

The OPCW has confirmed traces of the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in samples taken from Navalny in hospital in Germany, where he is recovering.

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Arias said the OPCW was still in talks with Russia to send a fact-finding team there to investigate the incident.

In a joint statement, 55 countries including the United States, Japan, Canada, Australia and many in Europe said they “condemn in the strongest possible terms” the attack on Navalny.

They urged Russia “to assist… by disclosing in a swift and transparent manner the circumstances of this chemical weapons attack” on Russian territory.

Russia hit back, saying the OPCW’s “politicisation” when dealing with Moscow and Damascus had become a “cancerous tumour”.

In a statement to the meeting it slammed the “debacle” over the “so-called poisoning” of Navalny.

On Syria it criticised the 2018 decision to grant the OPCW new investigative powers allowing it to identify the perpetrators of chemical attacks, as it did for the 2017 sarin attacks in its report in April.

Previously the watchdog could only confirm whether or not chemical weapons were used, but not say by whom.

Read more: The U.S-Russia blame game over chemical weapons in Syria

Russia accused Western powers of “trying to steamroll within the OPCW the decision on depriving Syria of its rights and privileges” and said the move would turn the body into a “kangaroo court”.

The OPCW has 193 member states and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its work in destroying the world’s stocks of chemical weapons.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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