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Watchdog: Evidence suggests Syria continues to produce and use chemical weapons in defiance of 2013 agreement

Posted by Tip Staff - August 24, 2016

U.S. and European officials have expressed concerns about Syria’s chemical weapons program after the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported that it found traces of deadly chemical agents at sites that the Syrian government did not declare as part of its program. The OPCW’s Director-General, Ahmet Uzumcu, wrote that a majority of samples taken “indicate potentially undeclared chemical weapons-related activities.” According to Colum Lynch and David Kenner, writing in Foreign Policy, the Syrian government “failed to provide sufficient access to senior leaders in its chemical weapons program or to adequately account for 2,000 aerial bombs that Syria acknowledges were designed to deliver mustard gas.” Kenneth Ward, the American representative to the OPCW, said that the Syrian regime had launched “a calculated campaign of intransigence and obfuscation, of deception, and of defiance” and added that the samples were “indicative of production, weaponization, and storage of [chemical warfare] agents by the Syrian military that has never been acknowledged by the Syrian government.” Eli Lake and Josh Rogin reported in May 2015 that the U.S. had been informed that the OPCW had discovered traces of sarin gas and VX nerve agent in a research center near Damascus.
The OPCW published findings Wednesday following its investigation into the possible use of chlorine in chemical attacks by the regime, and concluded that in fact the regime had dropped chlorine in two separate instances, one in April 2014 and another in March 2015. These attacks were in violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2235, which calls for international action, including possible sanctions, in the case of continued chemical weapons use.
President Barack Obama has expressed that he was “very proud” that he did not respond to Assad’s use of chemical  weapons in August 2013 (which killed more than 1,400 people) with military force, even though the attack had crossed a red line that Obama had articulated in 2012. Instead, a deal was reached with Russia for Assad to move his chemical weapons out of the country to be destroyed. In the summer of 2014, the OPCW announced that Syria’s declared chemical weapons stockpile had been removed. Secretary of State John Kerry said in 2014 that, due to this deal, “we got 100 percent of the chemical weapons out."
The Wall Street Journal’s Jay Solomon said on MSNBC on Monday that Obama chose not to enforce the red line after Iran, which is the Syrian regime's principal outside sponsor, threatened to pull out of nuclear talks. In his pursuit to bring the U.S. closer to Iran, Solomon writes in his new book The Iran Wars, Obama ordered the CIA to cut off contacts with Iran’s Green Movement in 2009 and terminated programs that documented Iranian human rights abuses.

A retired Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) general, who is currently one of the Iranian commanders leading Shi’ite troops in Syria, said in an interview last week that Iran has formed a Shi’ite army that seeks to destroy Israel by 2039, The Long War Journal reported on Wednesday.
Brig. Gen. Mohammad Ali Falaki, who is serving with the Afghan Fatemiyoun Division, said that the Afghan militia’s establishment facilitated “the formation of a Shia liberation army” that is commanded by Qassam Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s elite Qods Force. The main goal of this army is eliminating Israel, according to Falaki. “Forming the first nucleus of the liberation army has the objective that, God willing, we will not have anything called Israel in 23 years,” he said. He boasted that Iranian-led troops are already stationed by Israel’s border.
Falaki also praised the Afghan Fatemiyoun for their loyalty to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and hailed the IRGC for fostering “unity among ethnicities” and “unity among nations.” The IRGC and its various proxies “form a global jihadi network that answers to Tehran,” The Long War Journal observed.
Falaki’s comments are the latest in a long series of Iranian threats issued against Israel, which haven’t tapered off since the Islamic Republic reached a nuclear agreement with world powers in July of last year. Khamenei said in September 2015 that Israel will be destroyed in 25 years, while Brig. Gen. Mohammad Reza Naqdi, the commander of the Basij militia, called Israel’s destruction “nonnegotiable” in March 2015. On the same month that the nuclear agreement was reached, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president of Iran and ally of current President Hassan Rouhani, called Israel an “alien existence” that he believes will “be wiped off the map.”
A week after the deal was announced, Khamenei praised crowds who were shouting “Death to America, ” and “Death to Israel.” In August 2015, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed terrorist group Hezbollah, that the nuclear deal presented a “historic opportunity” to confront Israel. That same month, Hussein Sheikholeslam, a senior adviser to Iran’s parliament speaker, rejected a plea from British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond for Iran to moderate its views about Israel, saying, “Israel should be annihilated.” (via TheTower.org)

Israeli non-governmental organization IsraAID is sending eight highly trained volunteers to Louisiana this weekend to help flood victims return to their homes, salvage personal belongings and get back into a normal routine as soon as possible. “We watched the storm developing in the last few days and with the help of our local partners we got a snapshot of the enormous damage and the great need for assistance and rehabilitation,” said delegation head Naama Gorodischer, Global Programs Director for IsraAID. At least 13 people were killed and more than 60,000 houses were damaged in the Louisiana floods, which could be the largest natural disaster in the United States since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. IsraAID helped US communities after Sandy and five other calamities including Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and last year’s wildfires in Washington State. In May, the group sent its first-ever team to Canada, after wildfires in Fort McMurray in the province of Alberta forced the evacuation of 90,000 people from their homes. Seven Israeli volunteers joined veterans and aid workers from Canada and the United States in clearing debris and sifting through the toxic ashes, assisting local authorities and offering professional psychosocial support. Even now, as thousands of Fort McMurray families are still not allowed back into their homes, the Israeli volunteers are continuing to provide specialized psychosocial training to several local agencies that give direct services to those most affected by the fire. (via Israel21c)


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