Britain, France want U.N. sanctions over Syria toxic gas attacks

by Reuters
Tuesday, 25 October 2016 15:58 GMT

A Civil Defence member carries a damaged canister in Ibleen village from what activists said was a chlorine gas attack, on Kansafra, Ibleen and Josef villages, Idlib countryside May 3, 2015. REUTERS/Abed Kontar

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"Other actors, seeking to terrorize innocents, will be watching to see how the international community responds at this time"

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS, Oct 25 (Reuters) - Britain and France pushed on Tuesday for the United Nations Security Council to impose sanctions on Syrian government forces blamed for three gas attacks by an international inquiry as Syrian ally Russia said it was still studying the findings.

The fourth report from the year-long inquiry by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a text of which was seen by Reuters on Friday, blamed Syrian government forces for a third chlorine gas attack.

The results set the stage for a Security Council showdown between the five veto-wielding powers, likely pitting Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France over how those responsible should be held accountable.

The 15-member council is due to discuss the latest report by the international inquiry on Thursday.

British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said that the council, which set up the inquiry, now needs to "make sure there is genuine accountability and that means sanctions."

French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre called for the council to adopt a resolution extending the mandate of the U.N./OPCW inquiry, which expires on Oct. 31, for up to a year and also work on a separate resolution to punish those responsible.

"We call for a resolution of the council to sanction the authors of those crimes," Delattre told reporters. "When the use of weapons of mass destruction are at stake, weakness and impunity are simply not an option."

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said in a statement on Saturday that the United States wanted to see appropriate accountability for the attacks. She also supported an extension of the mandate of the inquiry.

"Other actors, seeking to terrorize innocents, will be watching to see how the international community responds at this time," Power said.

Following the inquiry's third report in August, which blamed Syrian government forces for two chlorine gas attacks and said Islamic State militants had used sulfur mustard gas, Russia said the conclusions could not be used to impose U.N. sanctions.

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on Tuesday that Moscow was studying the latest report.

The inquiry said that Syrian government forces had used helicopters to drop barrel bombs, which then released chlorine gas. The latest report confirmed a Reuters report in September that the inquiry had identified the 253 and 255 squadrons, belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade.

The inquiry said those "with effective control in the military units ... must be held accountable."

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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