The Latest: UN chief warns of Syria spiraling out of control
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the Syria conflict (all times local):
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is stressing the need to prevent the situation in Syria from “spiraling out of control.”
The U.N. chief expressed regret Wednesday that the U.N. Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the issue of chemical weapons in Syria.
Guterres says he called the ambassadors of the five veto-wielding permanent council nations — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France — “to reiterate my deep concern about the risks of the current impasse.”
He also renewed his “outrage” at reports of continued chemical weapons use in Syria.
On Tuesday, the council rejected rival U.S. and Russian resolutions for a new body to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It also rejected another Russian resolution welcoming an investigation of a suspected weekend chemical attack in the suburbs of Syria’s capital that made no mention of assessing blame.
Bolivia has asked for emergency consultations of the U.N. Security Council on “the threats of unilateral military action” against Syria.
Bolivia’s U.N. Ambassador Sacha Llorentty Soliz, who has supported Russia on Syria in council votes, said he requested a briefing from a senior U.N. official during closed consultations for Thursday morning.
Llorentty Soliz told reporters on Wednesday at U.N. headquarters that Bolivia asked for the meeting not based just on President Donald Trump’s latest tweets that the United States will launch missiles at Syrian targets in response to the suspected chemical attack in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus.
He also cited escalating rhetoric and said “there’s a consistency in his threats.”
Llorentty Soliz said Bolivia is concerned because any unilateral action would violate the U.N. Charter’s principles and purposes.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has told Israel’s leader that Syria’s sovereignty must be respected — remarks that come in the wake of an airstrike this week on Syria that Russia and others have blamed on Israel.
The Kremlin says Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by telephone on Wednesday.
The statement says Putin “underscored the principal importance of observing the sovereignty of Syria and called for holding back from any actions that would further destabilize the situation in this country and present threats to its security.”
A Syrian air base was struck by missiles before dawn on Monday, a little more than 24 hours after an alleged chemical attack near Damascus that the West has blamed on Syrian government forces.
Syria and Russia have blamed the airstrike on Israel. Israel does not typically comment on its operations in Syria.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says three Russian journalists have been wounded in Syria when their bus came under fire.
All three suffered light leg wounds and their lives are not in danger, the ministry said Wednesday.
The journalists were aboard a bus that was returning from the Eastern Ghouta area when unidentified assailants with small arms opened fire, the ministry said.
The wounded journalists work for the Defense Ministry’s TV channel Zvezda, state TV channel Rossiya-1 and NTV, which is owned by state-controlled natural gas monopoly Gazprom.
Sweden’s U.N. ambassador says he has no immediate plans to try again to get the U.N. Security Council to agree on a resolution Syria’s chemical weapons that would establish responsibility for attacks.
Olof Skoog, who led unsuccessful efforts to forge a compromise at Tuesday’s council meeting, said he was “very disappointed” that some council members “were not ready to engage on it for political reasons that have nothing to do with substance.”
The Security Council rejected three resolutions — rival U.S. and Russian calls for a new body to assess blame for Syrian chemical weapons attacks, and another Russian proposal for an investigation of the suspected attack last weekend in the Damascus suburb of Douma, which didn’t address responsibility for chemical attacks.
Skoog told reporters on Wednesday he insists “that what Syrian people want and need is peace and justice, not further military escalations or impunity.”
A senior Russian lawmaker says Russia will engage its warships in the Mediterranean Sea to protect Russian assets in Syria from a possible U.S. strike.
Alexei Kondratyev, a deputy head of the upper house’s defense committee, said on Wednesday that in addition to ground-based air defense systems that Russia has in Syria. the Russian navy in the eastern Mediterranean will also be involved in fending off a potential attack.
The top Russian military officer, General Staff chief Gen. Valery Gerasimov, warned last month that Russian military officers are present at Syrian facilities and that Russia will strike back “against both missiles and their carriers.”
Other Russian officials have reaffirmed the warning as United States and its allies ponder a possible attack on the Syrian government over a purported chemical attack.
British Prime Minister Theresa May says “all the indications” are that Syrian forces were behind a chemical attack in the town of Douma, and insists that the “continued use of chemical weapons cannot go unchallenged.”
May said on Wednesday that Britain is working with close allies “on how we can ensure that those who are responsible are held to account and how we can prevent and deter the humanitarian catastrophe that comes from the use of chemical weapons in the future.”
The United States, France and Britain have been consulting about launching a military strike, but May has not confirmed whether U.K. forces will participate directly.
Britain’s Parliament is in recess until Monday. While May does not legally require Parliament’s backing for military action, it is conventional for lawmakers to be given a vote.
In 2013, Parliament defeated a call by then-Prime Minister David Cameron for air strikes in response to an earlier chemical attack in Syria.
Russia is reiterating that its officers who inspected the town of Douma outside the Syrian capital have found no evidence to support claims that a chemical attack happened there.
Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of the Russian military’s General Staff says ground samples from Douma showed no trace of chemical agents. He says doctors at a local hospital told the Russians they haven’t treated any victims of purported attacks.
He also noted that local residents told Russian officers they were unaware of any burials of victims of a purported chemical attack.
Poznikhir also repeated Moscow’s earlier allegations that claims of the attack were “fake” and said the Russian military is ready to ensure security for experts from the international chemical weapons watchdog who are to visit Douma to investigate.
The Russian military says it will deploy troops to the Syrian town of Douma that was the site of a purported chemical weapons attack over the weekend.
Lt. Gen. Viktor Poznikhir of the General Staff of the Russian armed forces said on Wednesday that Russian military police will deploy to Douma on Thursday to ensure security of the town.
Poznikhir said that 41,213 people, including 3,354 rebels and 8,642 members of their families have left Douma with the Russian military’s assistance.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim is calling on the United States and Russia to work toward “healing wounds” in Syria, comparing their threats and exchanges of words to a street fight between “bullies.”
Addressing an economic conference, Yildirim said Wednesday: “They are fighting like street bullies. ... The time is not one for competing. It is time to heal the wounds of the region.”
Yildirim’s comments came hours after U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. will be launching missiles at targets in Syria in response to the suspected chemical attack in a rebel-held area that killed at least 40 people.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry responded by suggesting that the U.S. missiles would destroy evidence of a suspected chemical weapons attack.
The Syrian government says U.S. threats to attack it are “reckless” and endanger international peace and security.
The Foreign Ministry said Wednesday that Washington is using an alleged chemical attack near the capital to target Syria, and that the threats are hindering the government’s efforts to fight “terrorism.”
Syria and its ally Russia have rejected allegations by activists and rescuers that a chemical attack on the rebel-held town of Douma over the weekend killed more than 40 people.
U.S. President Donald Trump blamed the suspected attack on Syrian government forces and has threatened to respond militarily, tweeting on Wednesday that missiles “will be coming.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry says the “smart” missiles that U.S. President Donald Trump has promised to send to Syria will destroy evidence of a suspected chemical weapons attack.
Trump tweeted on Wednesday that the U.S. will be launching missiles at targets in Syria in response to the suspected chemical attack in a rebel-held area that killed at least 40 people.
Maria Zakharova, spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, in a Facebook post later on Wednesday wondered if the chemical weapons watchdog investigating the reports has been warned that the missiles will destroy “all evidence” of the attack.
She adds: “Or is it the original idea to use the smart missiles to sweep the traces of the provocation under the rug?”
Both the Syrian government and Russia deny the attack ever took place.
Russian state news agencies are reporting that a high-level Russian delegation has arrived in Syria where it is going to meet with President Bashar Assad.
The visit that RIA Novosti and Tass reported on Wednesday comes amid growing expectation of U.S. retaliation against Syria for a suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town.
The two state news agencies reported said the Russian delegation includes the governor of an oil-rich Siberian region and several lawmakers arrived earlier on Wednesday.
Tass in a news story out of the northern Syria city of Homs quoted lawmaker Dmitry Sablin refuting reports that Assad may have fled Syria. Sablin said Assad is in Damascus and is going to meet the Russian delegation.
The U.N. health agency says reports from its partners indicate some 500 patients showed signs of exposure to toxic chemicals following shelling on the Syrian town of Douma over the weekend.
The World Health Organization says patients at health facilities showed “signs of severe irritation of mucous membranes, respiratory failure and disruption to central nervous systems of those exposed.”
A WHO statement Wednesday did not confirm outright that a chemical weapons attack had taken place.
WHO also cited reports about the deaths of more than 70 people who sheltered in basements, saying 43 of those people who died had shown “symptoms consistent with exposure to highly toxic chemicals.”
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said Tuesday it would send “shortly” a fact-finding mission to Douma.
A senior Russian lawmaker has warned the United States that Russia would view an airstrike on Syria as a war crime.
U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened military action after last weekend’s suspected chemical attack on a rebel-held town near Damascus, which activists and rescuers say killed at least 40 people. The Syrian government and its ally Russia have denied that such an attack ever happened.
State news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday quoted Andrei Krasov, deputy chairman of the State Duma’s defense committee, as saying that Russia will treat a U.S. airstrike on Syria “not just as an act of aggression but a war crime of the Western coalition.”
Russia has been a key backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, providing air cover for his offensive against the Islamic State group and Syrian rebels. Russian military advisers are deployed at many Syrian government facilities.
European airspace authorities are warning aircraft to be careful over the next days when flying close to Syria because of possible military action against President Bashar Assad’s forces.
The Eurocontrol airspace organization said that the European Aviation Safety Agency had sent a “Rapid Alert Notification” that flight operations needed to consider the possibility of air or missile strikes into Syria.
U.S. officials have consulted with global allies on a possible joint military response to Syria’s alleged poison gas attack on a rebel-held town.
In a notice posted to Eurocontrol’s website, EASA said: “Due to the possible launch of air strikes into Syria with air-to-ground and/or cruise missiles within the next 72 hours, and the possibility of intermittent disruption of radio navigation equipment, due consideration needs to be taken.”