US, France, Britain seek new UN probe on Syria

Volunteers spraying a girl with water at a make-shift hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, on April 7, 2018.
Volunteers spraying a girl with water at a make-shift hospital following an alleged chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, on April 7, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

Draft resolution also calls for unimpeded aid deliveries, enforcing ceasefire and peace talks

WASHINGTON • Hours after striking Syria, the United States, France and Britain launched a new bid at the United Nations to investigate chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

The three allies circulated a joint draft resolution at the Security Council last Saturday that also calls for unimpeded deliveries of humanitarian aid and enforcing a ceasefire, and demands that Syria engage in UN-led peace talks.

The move signalled the West's resolve to return to diplomacy after a one-night military operation which hit sites that Western officials said were linked to Syria's chemical weapons programme.

The pre-dawn strikes earned quick scorn from Syria's ally Russia, but a push by Moscow for condemnation of the strikes at the Security Council fell far short.

Last night, Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani that further Western missile strikes on Syria would lead to chaos in international relations, Russian news agencies cited the Kremlin as saying.

Mr Putin and Mr Rouhani spoke by phone to discuss the situation in Syria, agreeing that the Western strikes had damaged the chances of achieving a political resolution in Syria, the news agencies reported.

US President Donald Trump and his allies ordered the mission in response to a suspected chemical weapons attack on April 7 on the rebel-held town of Douma that left more than 40 people dead. Washington believes both sarin and chlorine were used in the attack.

 
 
 

Both the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russia have denied all responsibility.

Negotiations on the draft resolution put forward by the US, France and Britain are set to begin today.

Among the contentious proposals, it would establish an independent investigation into allegations of toxic gas attacks in Syria with the aim of identifying the perpetrators.

On the humanitarian side, the measure demands medical evacuations and safe passage for aid convoys to be allowed to all areas.

The strikes were the biggest foreign military action so far against Syria's regime. Syrian state media reported only three people injured, while Russia's Defence Ministry said there were "no victims" among Syrian civilians and military personnel.

Last Saturday, Mr Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May and French President Emmanuel Macron huddled by telephone to discuss their joint action.

Mrs May has faced a backlash from her domestic opposition for launching the strikes without consulting Parliament, while opposition lawmakers in the US warned Mr Trump that any broader military campaign would require a well-formulated strategic vision - and authorisation from Congress.

Mr Trump last night defended his use of the phrase "mission accomplished" in his comments on Saturday about the strikes, after it was seized on by the media.

"The Syrian raid was so perfectly carried out, with such precision, that the only way the Fake News Media could demean was by my use of the term 'Mission Accomplished'," he tweeted.

Meanwhile, Mr Assad 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.

Mr Assad's key ally Iran also slammed the strikes, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei describing Western leaders as "criminals".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 16, 2018, with the headline 'US, France, Britain seek new UN probe on Syria'. Print Edition | Subscribe