Syria’s foreign minister has accused regional and Western powers of providing chemical weapons to the armed opposition, alleging that those weapons were used in an August attack that killed hundreds.
Addressing the UN General Assembly on Monday, Walid al-Muallem further alleged that while the Syrian government had co-operated with a UN inverstigation into the August 21 attack near Damascus, the commission was “prevented” from investigating who perpetrated the attack by the US and its allies.
“Syria, by acceding to the Convention on the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, proves its commitment against the use of such weapons,” he said, adding that “there remains the challenge that is facing all of us whether those who are supplying terrorists with these types of weapon will abide by their legal commitments”.
The Syrian foreign minister said that his country was not facing a “civil war”, rather it was fighting “a war against terror”.
Muallem also termed the US and EU’s sanctions against members of the Syrian leadership as “immoral and inhuman”, saying that they have worsened the conditions of Syria’s millions of internally displaced peoples and refugees “due to the activities of armed groups”.
“I appeal, from this platform, to Syrian citizens to return to their towns and villages where the state guarantees their safe return,” he said, assuring the regime’s “readiness to exert all efforts to deliver aid from international organisations to all Syrian citizens wherever they are”.
Muallem also endorsed a political solution for the crisis in Syria, saying that talks must begin without preconditions, and argued that “free and fair elections remain the only solution to decide on the options of the Syrian people”.
The foreign minister’s call comes a day after he told the Lebanon-based al-Mayadeen television that senior Damascus government officials would not sit down to talk with the Syrian National Coalition, the main organised political opposition bloc. He said the group “is not popular in Syria and lost a lot among Syrians when it called on the US to attack Syria militarily, meaning that it called for attacking the Syrian people”.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had previously said the government would not hold dialogue with members of the armed opposition.
Weapons inspectors leave Syria
Meanwhile, UN chemical weapons inspectors investigating allegations of chemical and biological weapons use during Syria’s civil war have left Damascus, after completing their second mission in two months on Monday.
The team, which arrived in Syria last Wednesday, is due to submit a report next month about seven alleged chemical weapons attacks during the conflict in Syria.
Another team of about 20 UN experts, charged with starting the process of verifying and eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons, landed in Beirut on Monday, and are expected to continue on to Damascus this week.
Their mission, endorsed by the UN Security Council last week, was hammered out by Washington and Moscow after the August 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus prompted US threats of air strikes against the Syrian government.
Inspectors who were in the country at the time confirmed that sarin gas, a nerve agent, was used in the attack, which killed hundreds of people.
Assad’s Western opponents said the inspectors’ report left little doubt that his forces were to blame for the attack. Syrian authorities denied the accusation, and Russia has said the inspectors’ report did not provide irrefutable proof that Assad’s forces were responsible.
“We have presented the evidence we possess … that lead to the conclusion that this was done by the opposition. And we have serious suspicions that such attempts continue,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Kommersant newspaper.