Militants from Ahrar Al-Sham, a hardline Islamist group, are planning to use white phosphorus in an attack on civilians to later blame it on Syrian armed forces, UN envoy Bashar Ja’afari told a UN Security Council emergency meeting on Sunday.
To falsify the evidence and make their claims sound more credible, the militants plan to pose as Syrian army troops as they deploy the banned substance, Ja’afari said, adding that imposters are going to put on Syrian army uniforms and film the whole incident on camera. He did not elaborate on the source of the intelligence.
White phosphorus is an extremely poisonous toxic agent able to inflict severe burn injuries and is banned from use in civilian areas, according to international law. It is only legitimate to deploy the chemical to create a smokescreen, make signals, or markings for friendly troops. The US has repeatedly used this loophole to use white phosphorus during Middle Eastern campaigns while claiming the indiscriminate weapon is only used as a smokescreen for advancing troops. Most recently, US military deployed white phosphorus shells in Iraq, saying they were used to “obscure” Kurdish fighters’ offensive against Islamists.
Speaking of the alleged upcoming provocation, Ja’afari mentioned the suspicious activity by American experts, who, he claimed, had visited one of the chemical munitions depots in the rebel-held town of Saraqib in the northwestern Idlib province. Upon examining the site, the experts departed Syria for Turkey, he claimed.
For its part, Syria has been acting in full compliance with the UN Charter and international law on warfare, Ja’afari said, repelling accusations of alleged use of incendiary weapons by the Syrian forces.
“We condemn the statements of several UN representatives that we are using banned weapons or targeting the civilian population,” he said, pointing to the fact that the UN, at the same time, is turning a blind eye to the use of chemical weapons by rebels.
Ahrar Al-Sham also committed a bulk of violations that contributed the ceasefire failure in Syria, according to the Russian military. The group, which is believed to be allied with Al-Nusra Front, has rejected the latest ceasefire, but is still not officially recognized as terrorist by US-led coalition despite Russia’s repeated requests.
“Not long ago, the Americans at last sent us a list of organizations which they consider to be part of the ceasefire and which should not be targeted. In one of the first positions there is Ahrar al-Sham,” Russian FM Sergey Lavrov said in interview to Sputnik earlier in September, adding that it “seems the Americans are listing a part of a terrorist structure, which is recognized as such by the UN, as an organization loyal to them.”
While the meeting was focused on the escalated of hostilities in Aleppo, where the Syrian armed forces are conducting a large-scale anti-terror operation in the eastern part of the embattled city, the US, UK and French representatives have demonstratively walked out from the meeting before the Syrian envoy was about to give Syria’s government prospective on the issue.
In his turn, Ja’afari slammed the countries for disrupting the peace process in Syria by carrying out airstrikes at Syrian army positions.
“Several UN member states should stop lying to themselves and to the whole world,” he said.
Despite the repeated violations of the ceasefire by the rebels, Syria is ready to breathe life in the stalled intra-Syrian talks and renew the negotiations but only with those forces who are “genuine patriots of their country and not acting on orders from abroad and receive money there.”
The Syrian envoy pointed out that Syrian government take all possible measures to ensure the civilian population would not suffer from the offensive, asking them to keep away from terrorist positions. However, the militants “do not let the civilians leave Aleppo and use them as [human] shields,” the envoy said.
Al-Nusra Front is currently the most powerful group fighting against the government in Aleppo, with 2,000 out of 3,500 militants in the city the group’s members.
“They are armed by tanks, APCs, field artillery, multiple rocket launchers… dozens and dozens of units, including heavy weaponry… Of course, they couldn’t have made this equipment themselves. All of this has been received by them and is still being shipped to them by generous Western backers, with the US, presumably, turning a blind eye,” Churkin said.
According to the Russian envoy, the Al-Nusra Front militants use the civilian population of Aleppo as human shields while indiscriminately attacking residential areas in the city controlled by the Syrian government.
“Over 200,000 residents of Aleppo are hostages of the Al-Nusra Front and groups allied with it,” Churkin said.
The terrorists are the main reason why attempts to deliver humanitarian aid to Aleppo have failed, contradicting accusations by the US, which blames Russia and Damascus, he said.
Moscow’s experience of giving concessions to the Syrian rebels following requests from the US, in the hope of it culminating in a ceasefire has not worked, Churkin told the Security Council adding that Moscow will no longer be following these steps.
Vitaly Churkin said that Russia has pressured Damascus on several occasions to meet the demands of its opponents, in the hope that this would lead to a ceasefire. However, this has not had the desired result and has seen constant violations by some rebel groups despite Washington’s promise to keep them under control.
“The American side de facto signed that it was unable to influence the groups it sponsors and to deliver on the deal as it promised. First of all, to separate those groups from terrorists and mark their positions on the ground accordingly,” he said.
He added that the actions of the US-led coalition, which killed 62 Syrian government soldiers in a miscalculated airstrike near Deir ez-Zor and exposed them to an offensive by the terrorist group Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) damaged relations with Damascus.
He dismissed criticism of the Syrian army, expressed at the Security Council meeting by the US, France and the UK, over the latest offensive in eastern Aleppo.
Churkin also turned down statements made by his US counterpart Samantha Power, who said Russia had to prove that it genuinely has intentions of bringing peace to Syria, saying the other parties also have to prove they are willing to take steps towards achieving a ceasefire.
“The ceasefire can only be salvaged now on a collective basis. It’s not us that have to prove something to somebody unilaterally. We have to see proof that there is a genuine desire to separate US-allied rebel groups from the Al-Nusra Front, then destroy the Al-Nusra Front and bring the opposition into a political process. Otherwise our suspicions that this was only meant to shield the Al-Nusra Front would only grow stronger.”
The UN Security Council meeting was convened at the request of the US, the UK and France to discuss the escalation of violence in Syria, after a ceasefire agreement, which was negotiated by Russia and the US had expired. The three countries accused Russia and Syria of causing civilian suffering in Aleppo, but did not mention the role played by armed groups opposing Damascus, which control large portions of the city.
China took a neutral stance and called on the revival of the ceasefire and facilitation of humanitarian aid to Aleppo, without accusing any party for the violence. The Chinese envoy stressed that counter-terrorism effort is an essential part for resolving the Syrian conflict.
The Syrian envoy said Damascus was determined to take the whole of Aleppo under its control and dismissed accusations of indiscriminate attacks against civilians and the use of incendiary weapons, which the US voiced against the Syrian army.
UN’s special envoy for Syria reported to the Council that the conditions in the contested city are deteriorating and that it needs relief as soon as possible.
After the UN Security Council meeting, Churkin was asked by the press if the Syrian peace talks between Moscow and Washington were “dead” after recent developments.
“I don’t think so,” he replied, but added: “The situation is very difficult.”
“We made our position clear. We need a serious process without trickery, without people changing their demands every two days. We had an agreement and the only thing required was fulfilling it without changing stances,” the envoy said.
If Washington “continues acting in the same manner, it will be difficult to have a serious peace process,” he warned.
The US and its allies aren’t paying enough attention to the violations by the Syrian opposition because in that case “we would find that there aren’t really any moderates” among them, former US diplomat Jim Jatras told RT.
“You have group like al-Zenki that cut the head of a Palestinian kid two weeks ago and was accused of using chlorine gas; Ahrar al-Sham, which is another jihadist group that chased the Americans out of northern Syria,” he said.
According to Jatras, Washington is failing to keep its promise to persuade the opposition to obide with the ceasefire because “frankly, I don’t think [the US] have that much influence.”
“It’s part of a problem that the US has had in repeated wars where we have supported Wahhabist terrorist groups,” including Libya and Afghanistan, where previously backed militants eventually turned against the Americans, Jatras said.
One of the key problems that makes the current situation in Syria particularly difficult is the fact that there are actually no moderate opposition groups, as various rebel groups are in fact controlled by several powerful terrorist organizations, Willy van Damme, a Belgian journalist who has closely followed the Syrian crisis, told RT.
“The problem is that Al Qaeda controls the rebels together with some other terrorist groups. As long as it continues, it is useless to talk about the ceasefire, it is useless to talk about a political solution – it will not happen,” van Damme said.
He also added that even “Col. Steve Warren, the spokesman for the US Army fighting Islamic State in Baghdad, said on April 26 that the eastern part of Aleppo is controlled by Al Qaeda.” At the same time, van Damme stressed that “Western governments and western media do not pay any attention in reality to what the so called rebels… do.”