July 9, 2015 / 9:55 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. council mulls creating team to assign Syria gas attacks blame

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United Nations Security Council is considering asking U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and the global chemical weapons watchdog to assemble a team of investigators to identify who is responsible for toxic gas attacks in Syria.

A man drives his motorcycle as he wears a gas masks after what activists said was a chlorine gas attack on Kansafra village at Idlib countryside, Syria May 7, 2015. REUTERS/Abed Kontar

The United States on Thursday circulated a draft resolution on the measure to the 15-member council, diplomats said, after more than two months of bilateral talks with Russia on how to attribute blame for chemical weapons attacks.

Diplomats said council members were due to start discussing the draft resolution next week.

The draft, seen by Reuters, would request Ban - working with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - to submit to the council “for its authorization, within 15 days of the adoption of this resolution, recommendations regarding the establishment of an OPCW-U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism.”

This mechanism would “identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in use of chemical weapons in Syria.”

The council would respond to Ban’s proposal within five days, according to the draft resolution. Once a joint team began work, Ban would be required to report to the Security Council on its progress once a month, while the team would be required to complete its first report within 90 days.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013, but the OPCW has since found chlorine has been “systematically and repeatedly” used as a weapon. The OPCW is not mandated to lay blame.

Government and opposition forces have denied using chlorine.

“Given the frequent allegations of chlorine attacks in Syria, and the absence of any international body to identify the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks, it is critical that the U.N. Security Council find consensus and set up an independent investigative mechanism,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, said in a statement.

Attributing blame for chemical weapons attacks would pave the way for Security Council action against those responsible. The Security Council has already threatened consequences for such attacks, which could include sanctions.

Russia is an ally of Syria and has protected President Bashar al-Assad from council action during the four-year civil war. Russia has been engaging with the United States on the possibility of attributing blame for chemical weapons attacks, but the Russian U.N. mission declined to comment on Thursday.

Chlorine is not prohibited, but its use as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns to hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in the resulting bodily fluids.

The United Nations has said that some 220,000 people have been killed and an estimated 7.6 million are internally displaced. Another 4 million people have fled Syria.

The OPCW is an inter-government organization headquartered in the The Hague, Netherlands that administers the Chemical Weapons Convention, an arms-control treaty that took effect in 1997.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Toni Reinhold and Steve Orlofsky

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