UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations Security Council revisited the thorny debate over the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s seven-year civil war Wednesday as it marked the anniversary of a sarin gas attack in a rebel-held enclave which left up to 100 people dead.
The attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017 was a grim milestone that punctuated the debate over whether the Syrian government had used chemical weapons in the war.
In response to the 2017 gas attack, President Donald Trump ordered the U.S. military to launch cruise missiles on a Syrian air base a few days later. But no one has been held accountable for chemical attacks in Syria, which some nongovernmental organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, estimate number as high as 85 between August 2013 and February 2018.
Meanwhile, though Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons has been drastically reduced by international disarmament experts, it still hosts production plants that are slated for elimination. On Wednesday, a UN expert described the productions facilities that remain to be destroyed since Syria agreed to rid itself of the banned agents.
“The long-awaited and verified destruction of these two facilities is an essential step,” said Thomas Markrum, deputy to the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, as he briefed the Security Council on Syria’s capacity for chemical weapons production.
Markrum said the two facilities would be destroyed in two to three months.
Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the UN, bemoaned the dismantling of a panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, that was tasked with identifying who had conducted chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
The Security Council was unable to renew the group’s mandate to continue investigating last November when Russia used its veto to block the U.S.-sponsored resolution that would have extended the life of the panel for a year.
“The Assad regime continued using chemical weapons against the Syrian people,” she said. “One member of this council shielded the Assad regime from any consequences, then blocked us from renewing the Joint Investigative Mechanism. Our consensus broke down.”
The JIM had attributed six chemical weapons attacks to the Syrian government and the Islamic State group before it was dissolved, blaming four on Syria — including the Khan Sheikhoun attack — and two on Islamic State.
But Russia’s UN ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, said the circumstances around the attack in Khan Sheikhoun “remain obscure.”
He once again criticized the JIM’s methodology and accuracy, questioning the panel’s motives and saying it had set out to prove that Syria had launched the attack.
“The conclusions of the JIM ran counter to the laws of physics, chemistry, aviation, ballistics and explosive matters,” he said.
Syria’s deputy ambassador to the UN, Mounzer Mounzer, said Syria had fulfilled its commitment under the Chemical Weapons Convention and eliminated its stockpile in record time.
“Instead of commending efforts of the Syrian government, some members of this council — and I mean the United States, the United States that has not destroyed its chemical arsenal, and is presenting a series of excuses to avoid destroying its arsenal . . . continue to exploit the council in order to make false and baseless accusations against the Syrian government,” he said.