Accusations still fly on Syrian chemical attack anniversary

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Al-Akhbar Management

Published Thursday, August 21, 2014

Syrian and international figures reacted to the one-year anniversary of the chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of eastern Ghouta on Thursday, as accusations still flew over who was behind the deadly attack.

The attack, which killed an estimated 1,400 people on August 21, 2013, sparked an international political crisis at the time as the United States threatened to intervene in the Syrian conflict with air strikes.

Subsequent discussions led to the Syrian government relinquishing its chemical weapons to the international community for destruction, even as it vehemently denied that it was behind the use of sarin in eastern Ghouta.

Several Syrian opposition groups issued statements for the occasion, including the opposition Syrian National Council, which said that the perpetrators had gone "unpunished" and that "crimes against humanity" were still being committed with other weapons.

Meanwhile, the opposition National Change Party condemned both the government of President Bashar al-Assad and the international community.

“Today, on the anniversary of the massacre, the National Change Party reminds the world that it has left the Syrian people alone and unarmed in the face of the most powerful and savage system in history,” the statement read. “The chemical massacre, as all massacres committed by the regime, stands a shame for all humanity and the international community, which needs to recognize that its persistent silence makes it complicit with this regime's crimes.”

As of late Thursday afternoon, neither the Syrian state news agency SANA nor the official Twitter account of the Syrian presidency had posted anything about the eastern Ghouta attack.

The Syrian government has repeatedly maintained that it was not behind the use of chemical weapons in eastern Ghouta.

At the time, European and US officials expressed various levels of "confidence" that the Syrian government was responsible for the attack, stopping short of officially accusing Assad.

On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin had surmised that the deadly chemical attack was a "smart provocation" on behalf of rebels trying to get the international community involved in Syria.

A UN report released in September 2013 confirmed the use of sarin in eastern Ghouta, without laying the blame on any specific actor in the Syrian conflict.

New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch said Thursday that hundreds of victims of a chemical weapons attack in Syria remained without justice one year on.

"Important though it is, the removal of chemical weapons from Syria's arsenal will do nothing for the hundreds of victims who died a year ago and the relatives who survive them," said Nadim Houry, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at HRW.

"Closure of the chemical weapons issue in Syria will be possible only when those who ordered and executed the Ghouta attacks have been held to account and are behind bars," he added.

"International efforts to ensure credible justice for these and other ongoing grave human rights crimes in Syria have proved elusive," HRW added.

UN welcomes destruction of Syrian chemical arsenal

On Wednesday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the destruction of Syria's declared chemical weapons arsenal on board US ship, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported.

"This marks a significant achievement in the international community's efforts to eliminate the chemical weapons program of the Syrian Arab Republic following the framework agreement between the Russian Federation and the United States of America," Ban said in a statement issued here by his spokesperson.

"The secretary-general appreciates the cooperation of the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and commends those member states that provided crucial support to this process," the statement added.

"He urges the Syrian Arab Republic to build on this historic milestone in order to ensure the full elimination of its chemical weapons program, including the destruction of the remaining chemical weapons production facilities.”

Ban also thanked the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for their work in dealing with Syria’s chemical weapons.

The OPCW announced on Tuesday that the American maritime vessel Cape Ray completed destruction of its entire consignment of 600 metric tons of Category 1 chemicals from Syria.

On Monday, Barack Obama hailed the completion of the destruction.

(Al-Akhbar, AFP)

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