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Russia Assails Investigators Who Faulted Syria in Sarin Attack

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Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Vladimir Safronkov, speaking with the American ambassador, Nikki R. Haley, at the United Nations headquarters in New York in August. Credit Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Russia on Tuesday ridiculed the findings of United Nations chemical arms investigators who faulted Syria’s military for a lethal sarin attack on the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun last April, calling their report full of inconsistencies, omissions and possible fabrications.

“Systemic deficiencies have been found,” Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Vladimir Safronkov, told the United Nations Security Council.

He called the report, submitted to the Council by an investigative panel on Oct. 26, “deeply disappointing” and emphasized that the investigators had never visited the site of the sarin attack.

Instead, he said, investigators concluded “everything could be determined without leaving your desk.”

The denunciation by Russia, the Syrian government’s most important ally, came after the leader of the panel that produced the report, Edmond Mulet, told Council diplomats that the findings reflected a “thorough, impartial and objective investigation.”

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Acknowledging some gaps in information, he defended the panel’s decision not to visit Khan Sheikhoun, partly because of the presence of Islamist extremists and insurgents.

But he also said an analysis of soil samples from the site given to investigators by the Syrian authorities had established that the sarin’s chemistry was identical to the sarin that the Syrian government claimed to have purged or destroyed three years ago.

Other inconsistencies in the evidence, Mr. Mulet told the council, were “not of such a nature to change the assessment.”

Mr. Mulet’s report was extolled by the United States and other Western allies as scientific proof of what they called a pattern of atrocities tied to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador, said the credentials of Mr. Mulet, a Guatemala statesman and longtime United Nations diplomat, were unimpeachable.

“Edmond is a man very much like the institution he heads — experienced, professional and independent,” Ms. Haley said.

Jonathan Allen, the deputy British ambassador, said the report had reached the “clear, unmistakable conclusion” that Syria’s government was responsible, and he denounced Russia’s response.

“Faced with science and fact, Russia has had no answer but fantasy and fiction, and has provided no evidence for its claims,” Mr. Allen said.

The contrasting assessments, while not unexpected, raises new worries that the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, a war crime, has been so politicized that those responsible will never be held to account.

The Security Council meeting took place 10 days before Mr. Mulet’s panel will have to cease work unless the Council members extend its mandate.

Known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the panel was created two years ago by the Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group that monitors compliance with the treaty banning such arms. The panel’s purpose was to identify who has been using them in Syria.

The panel is in the midst of investigating dozens of other reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including a possible sarin assault committed just a few days before the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed about 100 people and injured 200.

The United States and Russia have circulated differing resolutions that would extend the panel’s mandate. It is unclear whether a compromise can be negotiated before the Nov. 16 expiration.

The Russian version, which would only extend the panel’s life for six months, calls for a more thorough examination of the Khan Sheikhoun attack before any conclusion is reached.

It also says investigators must embrace the “high standards” established by the treaty that bans chemical weapons, “which includes investigation, sampling, interviewing witnesses and collection of evidence and information on the site of an incident.”

The American version of the resolution, which originally called for a two-year extension of the panel’s mandate, has been shortened to 18 months. Other parts of the American version have been modified in recent days in part to address Russia’s criticisms.

Ms. Haley said such changes reflected diplomatic work “with our friends from Russia to ensure we can achieve a unanimous reauthorization.” But she also accused the Russians of pushing “unacceptable language only meant to undermine the investigators and divide this Council.”

Continue reading the main story

Russia on Tuesday ridiculed the findings of United Nations chemical arms investigators who faulted Syria’s military for a lethal sarin attack on the Syrian village of Khan Sheikhoun last April, calling their report full of inconsistencies, omissions and possible fabrications.

“Systemic deficiencies have been found,” Russia’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, Vladimir Safronkov, told the United Nations Security Council.

He called the report, submitted to the Council by an investigative panel on Oct. 26, “deeply disappointing” and emphasized that the investigators had never visited the site of the sarin attack.

Instead, he said, investigators concluded “everything could be determined without leaving your desk.”

The denunciation by Russia, the Syrian government’s most important ally, came after the leader of the panel that produced the report, Edmond Mulet, told Council diplomats that the findings reflected a “thorough, impartial and objective investigation.”

Acknowledging some gaps in information, he defended the panel’s decision not to visit Khan Sheikhoun, partly because of the presence of Islamist extremists and insurgents.

But he also said an analysis of soil samples from the site given to investigators by the Syrian authorities had established that the sarin’s chemistry was identical to the sarin that the Syrian government claimed to have purged or destroyed three years ago.

Other inconsistencies in the evidence, Mr. Mulet told the council, were “not of such a nature to change the assessment.”

Mr. Mulet’s report was extolled by the United States and other Western allies as scientific proof of what they called a pattern of atrocities tied to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.

Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador, said the credentials of Mr. Mulet, a Guatemala statesman and longtime United Nations diplomat, were unimpeachable.

“Edmond is a man very much like the institution he heads — experienced, professional and independent,” Ms. Haley said.

Jonathan Allen, the deputy British ambassador, said the report had reached the “clear, unmistakable conclusion” that Syria’s government was responsible, and he denounced Russia’s response.

“Faced with science and fact, Russia has had no answer but fantasy and fiction, and has provided no evidence for its claims,” Mr. Allen said.

The contrasting assessments, while not unexpected, raises new worries that the repeated use of chemical weapons in Syria, a war crime, has been so politicized that those responsible will never be held to account.

The Security Council meeting took place 10 days before Mr. Mulet’s panel will have to cease work unless the Council members extend its mandate.

Known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, the panel was created two years ago by the Security Council and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the group that monitors compliance with the treaty banning such arms. The panel’s purpose was to identify who has been using them in Syria.

The panel is in the midst of investigating dozens of other reports of chemical weapons use in Syria, including a possible sarin assault committed just a few days before the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun, which killed about 100 people and injured 200.

The United States and Russia have circulated differing resolutions that would extend the panel’s mandate. It is unclear whether a compromise can be negotiated before the Nov. 16 expiration.

The Russian version, which would only extend the panel’s life for six months, calls for a more thorough examination of the Khan Sheikhoun attack before any conclusion is reached.

It also says investigators must embrace the “high standards” established by the treaty that bans chemical weapons, “which includes investigation, sampling, interviewing witnesses and collection of evidence and information on the site of an incident.”

The American version of the resolution, which originally called for a two-year extension of the panel’s mandate, has been shortened to 18 months. Other parts of the American version have been modified in recent days in part to address Russia’s criticisms.

Ms. Haley said such changes reflected diplomatic work “with our friends from Russia to ensure we can achieve a unanimous reauthorization.” But she also accused the Russians of pushing “unacceptable language only meant to undermine the investigators and divide this Council.”

Nytimes

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Syria

Turkey Begins Ground Assault on Kurdish Enclave in Syria

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Turkish soldiers waiting Sunday near the Syrian border. Turkish forces renewed their assault on Kurdish militia. Credit Bulent Kilic/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

ISTANBUL — Turkish troops crossed the Syrian border into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on Sunday morning, beginning a ground assault against American-allied militias there, as the first accounts of casualties emerged amid rising international criticism of Turkey’s military action.

Turkish fighter jets were again in the skies Sunday bombing Kurdish militia targets in the border region. Ten people were reported killed in the bombing raids, according to Kurdish militants, and three people died on the Turkish side of the border in retaliatory shelling, local people said.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim of Turkey confirmed to local journalists that his country’s troops had crossed the border into Syria on Sunday morning.

Mr. Yildirim said the forces intended to create a security zone about 18 miles deep inside Syria. The area would encompass urban centers, including the town of Afrin, with a predominantly Kurdish population, and the much larger city of Manbij, further east, as well as dozens of outlying villages.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed to eliminate “terrorist nests” in the Kurdish enclave, but on Sunday he promised that the operation would be swift. “Hopefully, we will complete this operation in a very short time,” he said in a speech to the women’s branch of his Justice and Development Party in the city of Bursa.

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“The real issue here is to deliver Afrin to its real owners,” Mr. Erdogan said. He said that “we have 3.5 million Syrians in our lands” and that Turkey wanted “to send our Syrian brothers back to their own land as soon as possible.”

Mr. Erdogan’s comments came amid growing international dismay over Turkey’s intervention, and amid reports of Syrian fighters massing to join the fight on both sides.

Members of the Free Syrian Army have been joining to fight alongside Turkish troops. Many of them are refugees from Arab villages and towns in the region.

At the same time, hundreds of Kurdish fighters from the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which has been leading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, were assembling in towns to the east and south of Afrin, according to The Associated Press.

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Syrian-Kurds demonstrating Sunday in the town of Amuda against the Turkish military action. Credit Delil Souleiman/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

A shopkeeper in Raqqa, who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety, said by text message that a large number of Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces were being sent from Raqqa to Manbij to prepare for a Turkish attack. His cousin was among 1,000 fighters gathered in Manbij and commanders were telling them an attack was imminent.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson spoke by telephone with his Turkish and Russian counterparts on Saturday to express concern about the situation, a State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said in a statement.

“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties,” the statement said.

France called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the developments and also urged Turkey to act with restraint, noting that the humanitarian situation was deteriorating in several regions of Syria.

Turkish officials have repeatedly criticized the United States for its support and arming of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the Y.P.G., which are spearheading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Yet they made clear Sunday they did not want to confront American troops in Syria.

Mr. Yildirim said Turkish forces would seek to destroy any logistics supply routes to Kurdish units, but Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said United States officials had assured Turkey there were no American troops in the region.

“It is out of the question to have a direct clash between Turkey and the U.S. in the region,” he said at a news briefing for international reporters Sunday.

By nightfall Turkish troops seemed to have advanced only a few miles into Syria.

Syrian fighters allied with Turkish forces claimed to have seized control of Shankal, a village on the northwestern edge of the Afrin district, but Kurdish fighters rejected the claim.

Casualties were reported from both sides, but numbers varied.

Hanadi Hafsi, a homemaker who lives in Reyhanli, a border district in Turkey, said two Syrians and a Turk died Sunday afternoon from shelling by Kurdish militias. The shells fell on a market, killing three and wounding 32, she said. Turkish officials said that only one Syrian had refugee died and that 37 people were wounded.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu condemned the “indiscriminate rocket fire by #PYD/#YPG terrorists” in a Twitter post. “This attack on innocent people shows the real face of #PYD terrorists.”

Continue reading the main story

ISTANBUL — Turkish troops crossed the Syrian border into the Kurdish enclave of Afrin on Sunday morning, beginning a ground assault against American-allied militias there, as the first accounts of casualties emerged amid rising international criticism of Turkey’s military action.

Turkish fighter jets were again in the skies Sunday bombing Kurdish militia targets in the border region. Ten people were reported killed in the bombing raids, according to Kurdish militants, and three people died on the Turkish side of the border in retaliatory shelling, local people said.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim of Turkey confirmed to local journalists that his country’s troops had crossed the border into Syria on Sunday morning.

Mr. Yildirim said the forces intended to create a security zone about 18 miles deep inside Syria. The area would encompass urban centers, including the town of Afrin, with a predominantly Kurdish population, and the much larger city of Manbij, further east, as well as dozens of outlying villages.

Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has vowed to eliminate “terrorist nests” in the Kurdish enclave, but on Sunday he promised that the operation would be swift. “Hopefully, we will complete this operation in a very short time,” he said in a speech to the women’s branch of his Justice and Development Party in the city of Bursa.

“The real issue here is to deliver Afrin to its real owners,” Mr. Erdogan said. He said that “we have 3.5 million Syrians in our lands” and that Turkey wanted “to send our Syrian brothers back to their own land as soon as possible.”

Mr. Erdogan’s comments came amid growing international dismay over Turkey’s intervention, and amid reports of Syrian fighters massing to join the fight on both sides.

Members of the Free Syrian Army have been joining to fight alongside Turkish troops. Many of them are refugees from Arab villages and towns in the region.

At the same time, hundreds of Kurdish fighters from the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, which has been leading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria, were assembling in towns to the east and south of Afrin, according to The Associated Press.

A shopkeeper in Raqqa, who asked not to be named out of fear for his safety, said by text message that a large number of Arab fighters in the Syrian Democratic Forces were being sent from Raqqa to Manbij to prepare for a Turkish attack. His cousin was among 1,000 fighters gathered in Manbij and commanders were telling them an attack was imminent.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson spoke by telephone with his Turkish and Russian counterparts on Saturday to express concern about the situation, a State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said in a statement.

“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint and ensure that its military operations remain limited in scope and duration and scrupulous to avoid civilian casualties,” the statement said.

France called for an emergency United Nations Security Council meeting to discuss the developments and also urged Turkey to act with restraint, noting that the humanitarian situation was deteriorating in several regions of Syria.

Turkish officials have repeatedly criticized the United States for its support and arming of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, known as the Y.P.G., which are spearheading the fight against the Islamic State in Syria. Yet they made clear Sunday they did not want to confront American troops in Syria.

Mr. Yildirim said Turkish forces would seek to destroy any logistics supply routes to Kurdish units, but Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said United States officials had assured Turkey there were no American troops in the region.

“It is out of the question to have a direct clash between Turkey and the U.S. in the region,” he said at a news briefing for international reporters Sunday.

By nightfall Turkish troops seemed to have advanced only a few miles into Syria.

Syrian fighters allied with Turkish forces claimed to have seized control of Shankal, a village on the northwestern edge of the Afrin district, but Kurdish fighters rejected the claim.

Casualties were reported from both sides, but numbers varied.

Hanadi Hafsi, a homemaker who lives in Reyhanli, a border district in Turkey, said two Syrians and a Turk died Sunday afternoon from shelling by Kurdish militias. The shells fell on a market, killing three and wounding 32, she said. Turkish officials said that only one Syrian had refugee died and that 37 people were wounded.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu condemned the “indiscriminate rocket fire by #PYD/#YPG terrorists” in a Twitter post. “This attack on innocent people shows the real face of #PYD terrorists.”

Nytimes

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Syria

Turkey fires barrage of missiles on Kurdish-held targets in Syria (VIDEO)

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Syria

Last thing Syria needs after beating ISIS is another conflict – German FM on Turkish op

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