US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday said Russia bore the responsibility of Syria’s continued use of chemical weapons after aid workers earlier this week reported an attack in Eastern Ghouta, the last rebel bastion near Damascus.
“Only yesterday, more than 20 civilians, mostly children, were victims of an apparent chlorine gas attack,” Tillerson said in the wake of a Paris conference on chemical weapons.
“Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria.”
Since joining the conflict in 2015, Russia has twice vetoed UN Security Council resolutions aimed at extending independent investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
“There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor” of the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, Tillerson added.
‘Dirty and false’ accusations
In turn, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov dismissed the claims as a smear campaign.
“The fact that they keep repeating these dirty and false accusations against us, only shows the level of the US diplomacy,” Ryabkov told the Interfax news agency. The diplomat also said US was using the accusations to hamper Russia’s peace efforts.
The Damascus regime said the reports of the attack were “lies” and a part of “the systematic aggressive and hostile policy of the West towards Syria,” according to Syria’s foreign ministry.
Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons on their territory.
‘Partnership against impunity’
In a bid to curb the use of chemical weapons in Syria, 24 countries on Tuesday backed a new “partnership against impunity” for their use.
The countries said they will share information and compile a list of individuals implicated in chemical weapons attacks in the war-ravaged country.
Hours before the conference, France said it froze the assets of 25 Syrian companies and executives, alongside French, Chinese and Lebanese enterprises that allegedly provided assistance to the Syrian government for the use of chemical weapons.
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in a statement that the situation “cannot continue” as such in Syria.
“The criminals who take the responsibility for using and developing these barbaric weapons must know that they will not go unpunished,” Le Drian said.
Enduring arms legacy
In December 2014, investigators of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) started to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile as part of a UN Security Council resolution passed the year before.
However, the Syrian government has been accused of continuing to use chlorine, a common chemical whose misuse as a weapon is banned, as well as misrepresenting its stockpile of chemical weapons required to be declared to the OPCW. Last year, a chemical weapons attack in rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun prompted the US to launch cruise missiles at a government-forces airbase.
A UN-backed independent investigation said the Syrian regime was responsible for the attack in Khan Sheikhoun, which left 87 people dead, including 30 children.