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Russia Protests New Effort To Punish Chemical Attackers


A Syrian boy holds an oxygen mask over the face of an infant at a makeshift hospital following a reported gas attack on the rebel-held besieged town of Douma on January 22.

Amid criticism from Russia, officials from dozens of countries are meeting in Paris for the launch of a new initiative targeting the perpetrators of chemical attacks.

France's Foreign Ministry said 29 countries on January 23 will endorse "a series of commitments aimed at strengthening their cooperation in the fight against impunity for those who use or develop chemical weapons."

That includes collecting, compiling, and facilitating the sharing of information so that the perpetrators of chemical attacks can be held accountable for their actions, a statement said.

"Although chemical weapons had disappeared for some 20 years, their reappearance in Iraq, Syria, and Asia, where they have fallen into the hands of state and nonstate actors, demands a resolute mobilization by the international community," it said.

The French ministry said that the International Partnership against Impunity for the Use of Chemical Weapons "in no way intends to replace existing international mechanisms, nor does it plan to conduct its own investigations."

But the initiative drew a vocal objection from Russia, which Western governments say has used its clout to protect Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government from punishment for chemical attacks.

Speaking on January 23, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the initiative was "a direct encroachment on the prerogatives of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] and a blow to the UN platform."

The Paris event, which is to be attended by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, comes after allegations of a new chemical attack in Syria.

Activists say that Syrian government forces launched a January 22 attack with suspected poisonous gas that affected about 20 civilians in a rebel stronghold near Damascus.

A Syrian civil-defense member breathes through an oxygen mask after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun in rebel-held Idlib in April 2017.
A Syrian civil-defense member breathes through an oxygen mask after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhun in rebel-held Idlib in April 2017.

"Let's be clear: Russia's unwillingness or inability to restrain the Assad regime is costing innocent Syrian lives," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said on Twitter on January 22. "We've been firm in our determination to hold parties accountable for the use of chemical weapons, which have killed far too many Syrians."

Russia, which has given Assad's government crucial military and diplomatic support throughout the nearly seven-year war in Syria, vetoed two UN Security Council draft resolutions proposed by the United States and its allies last year to extend a joint UN-OPCW inquiry into chemical-weapons use in Syria.

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Interfax
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