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October 26, 2020

UN inspectors resume Syria attack probe

UK drafts UN resolution authorising necessary measures ‘to protect civilians’

UN chief Ban Ki-moon says experts in Damascus ‘need time”

Security Council resolution is required for military action, UN Syria envoy warns

Israeli intelligence allegedly intercepted Syrian regime talk about chemical attack l Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian nationals evacuated

American and British warships may carry out a strike using cruise missiles in the early hours of Friday l Moscow warns that a military intervention would destabilise the entire region

UN inspectors have left their Damascus hotel to carry out a second day of inspections at the site of an alleged chemical weapons attack in the suburb of Ghouta, witnesses say, according to Al Jazeera. A convoy of six vehicles was seen leaving the hotel on Wednesday morning, though it was unclear what the exact destination of the inspectors would be. The inspectors’ first such visit on Monday was briefly suspended after the UN’s convoy came under sniper firefrom unidentified gunmen, though they did visit two field hospitals to collect evidence. Aid agencies say that at least 355 people were killed and more than 3,000 injured in the alleged chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21.
The resumption of inspections comes as British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama said they were “in no doubt” that the Syrian government carried out a chemical weapons attack on civilians in Damascus, according to a statement from the UK PM’s office. The prime minister’s office said on Wednesday that the evidence clearly indicated the forces of President Bashar al-Assad had carried out such an attack. Syria has denied that it carried out the attack, and challenged world powers to provide evidence that it had done so. Britain has drafted a resolution condemning the chemical weapons attack by Assad and authorising necessary measures to protect civilians. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle urged members of the UN Security Council, including Russia, to back the UK resolution on Syria expected to be proposed last night. Cameron, who was expected to meet his National Security Council last night, has also recalled parliament from a summer recess for a debate on the crisis in Syria, where an armed uprising against Assad’s government has now been raging for more than two years.
The UN’s Syria envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, said that international law is clear that a Security Council resolution is required for military action. American and British warships deployed in the eastern Mediterranean may carry out a strike on Syria using cruise missiles as soon as in the early hours of Friday, according to Fox News.
The bulk of evidence proving the Assad regime’s deployment of chemical weapons – which would provide legal grounds essential to justify any western military action – has been provided by Israeli military intelligence, the German magazine Focus has reported. According to The Guardian, the 8200 unit of the Israeli Defence Forces, which specialises in electronic surveillance, intercepted a conversation between Syrian officials regarding the use of chemical weapons, an unnamed former Mossad official told Focus. The content of the conversation was relayed to the US, the ex-official said.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon, meanwhile, said on Wednesday that the UN inspection team in Damascus needs “time do its job”.
French President Francoise Hollande said France is “ready to punish” those behind the “chemical massacre” in Syria, and said that his government believes Damascus carried out the attack. France is going to increase military support for the Syrian opposition, the president said, as he addressed foreign ambassadors in Paris. He announced a defence council meeting later yesterday, and pledged to brief the French parliament about it.
Hollande appeared to argue that what he called a “responsibility to protect civilians” could override international law, which he said “must evolve with the times.”
Speaking in Damascus, the Syrian Foreign Minister, Walid Mouallem, has said that “if any aggression were to take place” Syria has “two options: to surrender, or to defend itself using the options available, using all possible means.” On Tuesday a group that supports the government of Bashar al-Assad known as the Syrian Electronic Army has claimed they hacked the websites of the New York Times and Twitter. They have also warned of an attack on other international websites.
An al-Qaeda linked group has threatened a ‘volcano of revenge’ against the Syrian government and military targets in retaliation for the suspected chemical weapons attack in a Damascus suburb last week, Russia Today reported.
Russia denies US claim
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, has told US Secretary of State John Kerry that his country rejects the US claim that the Syrian government was behind the alleged chemical weapons attack, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday. In a phone call on Tuesday, Lavrov also told Kerry of Moscow’s concern that the situation was undermining diplomatic efforts to end the crisis, as expectations grow of Western military action against Assad’s regime.
“John Kerry put forward judgments which he said were based on information from reliable sources and according to which the Syrian government is to blame for the incidents with the probable use of chemical weapons,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a statement. “This argument was rejected by Sergei Lavrov, who put forward the corresponding position of the Russian side.”
Lavrov said Moscow wanted an objective and substantive exchange of information on the evidence of chemical attacks in Syria.
“Moscow is, as before, particularly worried about the dangerous and already clear line towards a conscious undermining by a number of countries of the conditions for a political-diplomatic solution to the conflict,” the statement added.
Meanwhile, in a phone conversation with Lakhdar Brahimi, the joint UN-Arab League envoy, the Foreign Ministry said Lavrov warned that any military intervention in Syria would destabilise the entire region.
On Tuesday, US Vice-President Joe Biden became the highest ranking US official to accuse Syria’s government of having carried out the attack, asserting that there was “no doubt” that the government was “responsible for this heinous” act. Also on Tuesday, Chuck Hagel, the US Defence Secretary, repeated previous statements that US forces were now positioned to strike Assad’s forces should the decision to take military action be made.

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