A Russian bid to create a new inquiry into chemical weapons attacks in Syria failed at the UN Security Council on Tuesday just hours after Moscow vetoed a US-drafted resolution for an inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.
Seven members voted against the Russian bid and two abstained. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass. A veto can only be cast if a draft wins at least nine votes.
It was the second vote by the council on Tuesday. Russia earlier vetoed a US-drafted Security Council resolution that would have created a new inquiry to ascertain blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. The Russian draft would have required investigators to report to the Security Council, which could then attribute responsibility.
Twelve council members voted in favour, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting no, and China abstained. A resolution needs nine votes in favour and no vetoes by Russia, China, France, Britain or the United States to pass.
The showdown between the United States and Russia at the United Nations came as the threat of Western military action in Syria loomed large.
“This resolution is the bare minimum that the council can do to respond to the attack,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council before the vote, referring to reports of a deadly poison gas attack in Syria’s Douma, which killed at least 40 people.
The vote came a day after US President Donald Trump vowed that any nation promised that any nation found to share responsibility for Saturday’s apparent chemical weapons attack on civilians will “pay a big price“.
The Syrian government and Russia said there was no evidence that a gas attack had taken place and the claim was bogus.
But the incident has thrust Syria’s seven-year-old conflict back to the forefront of international concern.
Chemical weapons watchdog to deploy to Syria
The global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) on Tuesday said it would soon deploy a fact-finding mission to the Syrian town of Douma.
“OPCW’s Director-General, Ambassador Ahmet Üzümcü, has considered the deployment of a Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) team to Douma to establish facts surrounding these allegations,” said a statement released by the Hague-based group.
The OPCW called on the Syrian government to “make the necessary arrangements for such a deployment”.
A second Russian draft resolution tabled later Tuesday that would have supported a fact-finding mission by the OPCW but would not seek to identify the perpetrators of the attacks was also rejected by the Security Council, with Britain, France and the United States voting against the measure.
At least 40 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured in Saturday’s suspected attack on Douma, then still occupied by rebel forces, according to a Syrian relief group.
Earlier Tuesday, the Assad regime invited international inspectors to send a team to Syria to investigate the alleged chemical attack in Douma in a move apparently aimed at averting possible Western military action over the incident.
Amid mounting international condemnation of Saturday’s attack, the Syrian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday said it would help the OPCW to investigate the alleged attack.
“Syria is keen on cooperating with the OPCW to uncover the truth behind the allegations that some Western sides have been advertising to justify their aggressive intentions,” state news agency SANA said, quoting an official Foreign Ministry source.
Evacuation in Douma
Meanwhile on the ground, thousands of militants and their families arrived in rebel-held northwestern Syria after surrendering Douma to government forces. The evacuation deal restores Assad’s control over the entire Eastern Ghouta — formerly the biggest rebel bastion near Damascus.
The deal over the rebel evacuation of Douma took effect on Sunday, hours after medical aid groups reported the suspected chemical attack.
RIA news agency quoted Russia’s Defence Ministry as saying 3,600 militants and their families had left Douma over the past 24 hours. About 40,000 militants and their families are expected to leave, the pro-government Watan newspaper said.
Sixty-seven buses carrying hundreds of fighters, along with family members and other civilians who did not wish to come back under Assad’s rule, reached opposition areas near Aleppo on Tuesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
As part of the surrender deal, the Jaish al-Islam rebel group that controlled the town released scores of people it had been holding.
Jaish al-Islam’s departure will bring to an end the opposition presence in Eastern Ghouta, giving Assad his biggest battlefield victory since late 2016, when he took back Aleppo, and underlining his unassailable position in the war.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP and REUTERS)