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Russia rejects US proposal for UN Syria gas attacks probe

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Russia rejected a new United States (US) proposal at the United Nations on Monday (April 9) to set up an investigation to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, reported The Straits Times (Singapore).

The United States put forward a draft resolution to the Security Council following alleged toxic gas use in the rebel-held town of Douma that killed at least 40 people.

The US push for a new inquiry came amid heightened tensions over possible US military action in Syria, with President Donald Trump saying that "major decisions" would be taken within 48 hours.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said the US-drafted measure "contains some unacceptable elements, which make it worse" than a previous US proposal put forward in March.

"From what we hear now, I am afraid they are looking for a military option, which is very, very dangerous," he told reporters following an emergency council meeting.

Trump - who last year launched a missile strike on a Syrian air base after sarin was used in the town of Khan Sheikhun - warned after the latest accusations that there would be a "big price to pay." Rescuers and medics in Douma say more than 40 people died after a "poisonous chlorine gas attack" late Saturday in the last rebel-held pocket of Eastern Ghouta.

At the council meeting, Nebenzia warned that a US military strike against Syria could have "grave repercussions" and stressed that the use of chlorine or sarin had not been confirmed in the attack.

US Ambassador Nikki Haley urged the council to take action, but warned that the United States was ready to respond.

"We have reached the moment when the world must see justice done," Haley said.

"History will record this as the moment when the Security Council either discharged its duty or demonstrated its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria," she added.

"Either way, the United States will respond."

RUSSIA WARNS US
The Russian ambassador said Moscow had told the United States that it would not allow its forces on the ground in Syria to be put at risk.

"Armed force under mendacious pretext against Syria, where, at the request of the legitimate government of a country, Russian troops have been deployed, could lead to grave repercussions," Nebenzia said.

Moscow and Damascus have fiercely denied that chemical weapons were used in Syria.

It was unclear when the proposed US measure would come up for a vote at the council.

A draft resolution requires nine votes to be adopted and no vetoes from the five permanent members - Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States.

"The US resolution is pretty obviously a bait for the Russians, who will have no choice but to veto it," said Richard Gowan, a UN expert from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

"That will give the US and possibly France an excuse for military action," said Gowan.

"All sides know what is going on, and the Russians have actually been predicting US military action over Ghouta for some time. We just have to hope that Moscow will not overreact when the strikes come." The renewed US push to establish the United Nations Independent Mechanism of Investigation comes after Russia killed off a previous UN-led probe in November by vetoing the renewal of its mandate.

Under the current draft resolution, UNIMI would be established for one year and work with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify perpetrators of the chemical attacks.

The council would ask UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to outline within 30 days the operation of the panel "based on the principles of impartiality, independence and professionalism," according to the draft text obtained by AFP.

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The UN Security Council held an emergency meeting on security in the Middle East, in the wake of reports of an alleged chemical attack in the Syrian city of Douma, reported Russia Today.

The UN special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, opened the meeting by describing the reports about the alleged chemical attack in Douma and the subsequent airstrike against the Syrian T-4 air base. He called for an “independent investigation” of the alleged chemical incident and urged restraint for all sides, in view of the airbase attack.

Russia is deeply concerned by the fact that some capitals, Washington as well as London and Paris, which are “blindly following” their US allies, have engaged “in a confrontational policy against Russia and Syria without any justification,” The Russian Ambassador to the UN, Vassily Nebenzia, said during the meeting. He went on to say that Moscow recently faced “slander, hawkish rhetoric, sanctions, blackmail” and even “threats of force.”

Western states are now threatening and slandering Russia with a ferocity that their governments “did not take the liberty” to unleash during the Cold War, Nebenzia added. “Russia has been inexcusably threatened,” he said.

Nebenzia stressed that every time the Western powers interfere into other states’ affairs, they “leave only chaos behind.” “Do you understand the dangerous threshold to which you are bringing the world?” the Russian envoy asked.

There is “no doubt” that the alleged chemical attack in Syria’s Douma was staged, Nebenzia said, commenting on the developments in Eastern Ghouta. He then called for an impartial probe into the reported incident, which should begin with the presumption of innocence.

The UN chemical watchdog must visit Syria and investigate the allegations, Nebenzia said, calling on the Organization for the Prohibition of the Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to visit Douma as early as Tuesday. Syrian and Russian troops would provide the inspectors with a safe passage to the area of the alleged chemical attack in Douma after they arrive to Damascus, he said.

Nebenzia questioned the 'evidence' provided by the controversial White Helmets group. In particular, he said the scene of an alleged chemical strike was a fake, saying that it seemed “unnatural” that the bomb “struck the roof of a building and then fell on a wooden bed without even damaging it.”

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