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ISIS, Syrian government used chemical weapons, UN panel says

The U.N. Security Council meets on the use

The U.N. Security Council meets on the use of chemical weapons in Syria, at U.N. headquarters, Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Credit: Kim Haughton/The United Nations via AP

UNITED NATIONS — A panel of experts told the UN Security Council Tuesday it has concluded both the Syrian government and one of its arch enemies — the Islamic State group — twice used deadly chemical weapons in that nation’s war in the past 14 months.

“The leadership panel has identified ISIL as responsible for the use of sulphur mustard [gas] in Umm Hawsh and the Syrian Arab Republic as responsible for the use of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun,” said Edmond Mulet, who heads the Joint Investigative Mechanism.

The JIM, which comprises experts from both the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, still has an uncertain fate.

Its seventh report, which attributes six chemical weapons attacks to either the Syrian government or ISIS during the nearly seven-year civil war, comes as Security Council members debate whether to renew the group’s mandate, which expires on Nov. 16.

Specifically, the expert group attributed an April 4 attack in Khan Sheikhoun to forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and a Sept. 16, 2016, mustard gas attack in Um-Housh to the Islamic State, the militant group that has been trying to overthrow Assad.

The April 4 attack, which killed up to 100 people, prompted President Donald Trump to launch nearly 60 cruise missiles onto a Syrian air base a few days later.

Last month, Russia’s ambassador vetoed a resolution drafted by the United States to keep the group’s work going, saying the Oct. 24 vote, which took place two days before the latest report was to be released, was timed to isolate Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Eleven members voted in favor of the resolution to renew the group’s work and two countries, China and Kazakhstan, abstained, while Russia and Bolivia rejected it.

Tuesday’s meeting was not followed by consultations on the report or the JIM, but featured reactions that reiterated positions that members of the divided Security Council had taken the last time it had met on the issue.

“Now is the time for this council to unanimously renew the JIM to ensure it will continue to do its crucial work for at least another year,” said Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, even as the United States circulated a resolution that would extend the JIM’s mandate for two years. “The arguments for renewing the JIM are clear. Its most recent report has only strengthened them.”

But Russia’s ambassador, Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov, questioned the validity of the JIM’s reports as his country offered a draft resolution for a six-month renewal of the mandate that he said would correct the experts’ “errors.”

“Without a comprehensive change, it will become a tool to settle accounts with the Syrian authorities,” Safronkov said, according to Reuters.

The United Kingdom’s deputy ambassador, Jonathan Allen, said: “The Joint Investigative Mechanism has done what we, as a council, asked it to do. It has done so thoroughly, impartially and professionally. And today, presented with its findings, we must speak with one voice to condemn the use of chemical weapons by Daesh and this attack on Khan Sheikhoun by the Syrian regime. We must hold those responsible to account.”

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