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Tánaiste would have 'much preferred' if the UN was taking action against alleged Syrian chemical attack

World leaders are dealing with the fallout of airstrikes ordered following an alleged chemical attack.

Missiles streak across the Damascus skyline early Saturday.
Missiles streak across the Damascus skyline early Saturday.
Image: Hassan Ammar

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has said he would rather the situation in Syria be handled through the United Nations (UN).

Speaking on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show ahead of a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers in Luxembourg today, Coveney said:

“I think the international community has to be strong on this issue. I would have much preferred if it was the UN that was taking robust action in terms of accountability, independent inspection, and taking a legal prosecution after investigation on the basis of international war crimes… but that clearly hasn’t been possible – yet anyway – through the UN.”

He added that he would not like to see tensions escalate between the US and Russia in particular, adding that the perpetrators behind the alleged chemical attack in Syria last week must be held accountable.

‘Horrified’ 

A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs said Ireland is very strong and clear in condemning the use of chemical weapons, adding that “we were horrified by the attacks in Douma just over a week ago”.

“There are no good answers on how to address the horrible situation in Syria, and when something like this happens, it is natural to want to take action to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. However, Ireland continues to urge caution by all parties. The Syria conflict ultimately requires a political solution; that is the only way to bring peace,” the statement added.

Chairing the meeting of Foreign Affairs ministers, the Tánaiste said they will discuss what the EU can do bring about “a peaceful end to the conflict and full legal accountability for those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Syria”.

Chemical weapons watchdog

Separately, the world’s chemical weapons watchdog is set to convene this morning to discuss the suspected toxic gas assault in Syria that prompted an unprecedented wave of Western strikes, as its inspectors probe the attack near Damascus.

As the on-the-ground investigation gets under way, the fallout from the US-led response continued to reverberate, with French President Emmanuel Macron claiming to have persuaded President Donald Trump to keep his troops in Syria.

And in London, British Prime Minister Theresa May is to face an emergency parliamentary debate today to discuss Britain’s involvement in the airstrikes.

The US-led strikes were the biggest international attack on President Bashar al-Assad’s regime since the start of Syria’s seven-year war.

They have risked a confrontation with Moscow, the Syrian regime’s top ally, with President Vladimir Putin warning that fresh attacks would spark “chaos”, while Washington vowed economic sanctions against Russia rather than further military action.

US, French and British missiles destroyed sites suspected of hosting chemical weapons development and storage facilities Saturday, in a move lauded by President Donald Trump as “perfectly executed” – although the buildings were mostly empty and both Damascus and Syria’s opposition rubbished its impact.

The Western trio swiftly reverted to diplomatic efforts, with leaders facing flack at home over the punitive attack.

But their unified stance appeared to be shaken yesterday when Washington knocked back French President Emmanuel Macron’s claim that Paris had convinced Trump to stay engaged in Syria “for the long-term”.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the US mission “has not changed” and Trump wanted troops home “as quickly as possible”.

Saturday’s strikes came just hours before a team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons arrived in Damascus.

They have been tasked with investigating the site of the alleged 7 April chemical attack in the town of Douma, in the formerly rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, which Western powers said involved chlorine and sarin, and killed dozens.

The OPCW is set to meet in the Hague today over the attack, although there have been no signs yet that the investigators have travelled to Douma to begin their fieldwork.

The inspectors will face a difficult task, with all key players having preempted their findings, including Western powers, which justified the strikes by claiming they already had proof such weapons were used.

Inspection still useful?

The team will also have to deal with the risk that evidence may have been removed from the site, which lies in an area that has been controlled by Russian military police and Syrian forces over the past week.

“That possibility always has to be taken into account, and investigators will look for evidence that shows whether the incident site has been tampered with,” Ralf Trapp, a consultant and member of a previous OPCW mission to Syria, told AFP.

The OPCW declared that the Syrian government’s chemical weapons stockpile had been removed in 2014, only to confirm later that sarin was used in a 2017 attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhun.

“We will ensure they can work professionally, objectively, impartially and free of any pressure,” Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Soussan told AFP.

‘Locked and loaded’

US leader Trump exclaimed “Mission Accomplished” after the pre-dawn strikes that lit up the sky around Damascus in a tweet that drew swift derision from his critics and parallels with president George W Bush’s notoriously premature Iraq war victory speech on an aircraft carrier 15 years ago.

The Pentagon said no further action was planned but Washington’s envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, warned that the US was “locked and loaded” should another gas attack occur.

Assad denounced a “campaign of deceit and lies at the (United Nations) Security Council” after a push by Moscow on Saturday to condemn the strikes fell far short.

© – AFP, 2018

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