The Latest: Revised UN resolution on Syria attack circulated
BEIRUT (AP) — The Latest on the conflict in Syria (all times local):
12: 30 a.m.
Britain, France and the United States have circulated a revised U.N. draft resolution that would condemn the reported use of chemical weapons in northern Syria and demand that all parties provide speedy access to investigators to the sites.
Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters Tuesday that the resolution also calls for those responsible for the attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 to be identified and brought to justice.
The sponsors are hoping for a vote Wednesday afternoon.
Rycroft said the resolution was written with the aim of getting approval from all 15 council members, but the draft keeps in a paragraph that the Russians objected to last week.
It emphasizes that Syria is required to provide investigators with flight plans, logs and information about air operations on April 4 and names of helicopter squadron commanders as well as immediate access to air bases where investigators believe chemical attacks may have been launched.
A Lebanese official close to the Syrian government says nearly 12,000 people will be moved around Syria tomorrow in a planned population transfer arranged between the government and rebels.
The official, who asked for anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media, said 3,800 people will be evacuated from opposition-held areas around Damascus to the rebel-held province of Idlib in northern Syria, on Wednesday.
He said another 8,000 people will be moved from two pro-government towns in Idlib to areas under secure government control.
The U.N. has decried previous arrangements, saying they amount to the forced displacement of civilian populations, a war crime.
Many Lebanese and Syrian government officials maintain close ties, despite Syria’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2005. It had occupied the tiny Mediterranean country for nearly 30 years.
—Philip Issa in Beirut
The defense ministers of Russia and Iran have spoken on the phone to discuss coordination in Syria.
In their Tuesday conversation, Russia’s Sergei Shoigu and Iran’s Hossein Dehghan denounced the U.S. strike on a Syrian air base as a violation of international law. The Russian Defense Ministry noted in a statement that the two ministers said the Islamic State group and other extremists had profited from the U.S. attack.
The phone call comes as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Moscow for talks set to be focused on Syria.
Russia has rejected the U.S. accusations against the Syrian government for launching a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun in northern Syria. It has claimed that civilians there were exposed to toxic agents from a rebel arsenal that was struck by Syrian warplanes.
U.S. Senator John McCain says stopping Syrian President Bashar Assad’s “murderous rampage” does not preclude America from fighting the Islamic State group.
“The United States is the most powerful nation on earth, we can do both at the same time,” the Republican senator said at a press conference in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
McCain said Bashar Assad was “a war criminal and must go.”
He added that stopped the bloodshed in Syria “is an obligation for all of us to stop, including Russians who used precision weapons to attack hospitals in Aleppo.”
McCain is on a tour of the western Balkans, the war-weary European region where Russia has been vying for increased military, political and economic influence.
France says it will be pressing again for a U.N. Security Council resolution condemning last week’s chemical attack in northern Syria and calling for a thorough investigation so the entire world knows how it occurred and who was responsible.
France’s U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters at U.N. headquarters on Tuesday it’s important that the council put its weight behind the investigation process.
The international chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, is already trying to ascertain the facts concerning the April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhoun.
Delattre said it was too early to say whether the France, Britain and the United States will move ahead with the text of the resolution they put forward last week or change it.
He said the latest developments — the chemical attack and the U.S. strike on a Syrian air force base in retaliation — “are a potential game changer for the better” and the goal must be negotiations on a political transition in Syria.
Turkey’s health minister says Syrian President Bashar Assad should be put on trial as a war criminal.
Recep Akdag made the comments Tuesday after he announced that test results conducted in Turkey on victims of a chemical attack in northern Syria confirmed that sarin gas had been used.
Akdag, in comments reported by the state-run Anadolu agency, said that international organizations and United Nations, “should declare Assad as a war criminal and put him on trial.”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin says that the U.S. accusations toward the Syrian government over a chemical attack resemble Washington’s claims prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Putin, speaking after Tuesday’s talks in Moscow with visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella, said the U.S. invaded Iraq following false allegations that it possessed chemical weapons.
He said the U.S. attack on a Syrian air base following accusations of the Syrian government’s involvement in last week’s chemical attack in Khan Sheikhoun “strongly resembles the developments of 2003.”
Putin added that some in the West are using Syria to cast Russia as a “common enemy.”
Russia has argued that civilians in Khan Sheikhoun were exposed to toxic agents from a militant arsenal that was hit by a Syrian air strike. Putin said militants are preparing more “provocations” designed to blame Damascus
The Russian military says Syrian militants are preparing to use chemical weapons and blame the Syrian government for the attacks in order to provoke more U.S. strikes.
Col. Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the military’s General Staff said Tuesday the militants are currently stockpiling toxic agents in the areas of Khan Sheikhoun, the Jira air base and west of Aleppo, as well as Eastern Ghouta near Damascus.
Rudskoi said the militants’ aim is “to create another pretext for accusing the Syrian government of using chemical weapons and provoking new U.S. strikes.”
The U.S. last week struck a Syrian air base it said was used for a chemical weapons attack in Khan Sheikhoun. Russia has insisted that the Syrian government wasn’t involved in the attack.
The international chemical weapons watchdog has scheduled a meeting of its executive council to discuss the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria.
According to a written notification posted Tuesday on the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ website, the behind-closed-doors meeting will be held Thursday at its headquarters in The Hague.
Britain’s delegation says in a tweet that it will be expressing its “horror” at the use of chemical weapons in the attack in Idlib province that left dozens dead.
Turkey’s health minister said Tuesday that tests conducted on victims of the chemical attack in northern Syria confirm that sarin gas was used.
The OPCW said last week that its fact-finding mission is “gathering and analyzing information from all available sources” about the attack.
Russia says it will host the foreign ministers of Iran and Syria for a three-way meeting.
The meeting announced by the Russian Foreign Ministry is set for Friday. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that President Vladimir Putin isn’t planning to take part in the meeting.
The meeting comes after the visit by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who arrived in Moscow Tuesday.
It follows last week’s U.S. strike on a Syrian air force base in retaliation for a chemical attack in northern Syria. Russia has denounced the U.S. attack as an “aggression” and argued that the Syrian government wasn’t responsible for the chemical attack.
A Syrian official says Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem will visit Russia later this week where he will meet officials in Moscow.
Thursday’s visit comes amid escalating tensions in the Middle East after the U.S. launched a missile attack last week on a central Syrian air base. Washington blamed Damascus for a chemical attack in northern Syria that killed nearly 90 people, a charge that Syria strongly denies.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Tuesday that there might be a three-way meeting later this week in Moscow between officials from Russia, Syria and Iran.
Russia and Iran are the strongest backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
—Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria
Turkey’s health minister says test results conducted on victims of a chemical attack in northern Syria confirm that sarin gas was used.
Recep Akdag said Tuesday that blood and urine samples taken from the victims confirmed that they were subjected to the nerve agent. His comments were reported by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
Turkey last week conducted autopsies on three victims of the gas attack who were brought from Syria.
Officials from the World Health Organization and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons participated in the autopsies.
A U.S. military spokesman says the U.S.-led coalition and its allies are paving the way to storm the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the Islamic State group.
Col. John L. Dorrian, told reporters in Baghdad Tuesday that “ultimately we’re isolating Raqqa and we are going to, at a time that our partners choose, move in and liberate that city from” IS.
The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces has been on the offensive since November capturing territory with the aim of laying siege to Raqqa. The city now is surrounded from three sides.
Dorrian said the operation to liberate Raqqa is the equivalent in Syria of what’s being “done to eliminate the enemy” in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.
Russia’s Defense Ministry says two Russian officers have been killed and one gravely wounded in a mortar attack in Syria.
Russia is a staunch backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has been waging an air campaign in support of his forces since 2015.
The ministry announced the deaths Tuesday, but did not specify when or where the attack took place.
Syrian opposition activists are reporting clashes in the southern city of Daraa between government forces and insurgents, saying that government aircraft have dropped barrel bombs on the city.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting broke out when rebels launched an offensive on a government-held area in central Daraa on Monday. It said that by Tuesday, 16 pro-government fighters, including an army colonel, had been killed.
Daraa-based activist Ahmad al-Masalmeh and the Observatory said warplanes carried out raids on Daraa while helicopter gunships dropped at least eight barrels loaded with explosives onto the city.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Monday that the use of barrel bombs, which government forces have repeatedly employed throughout the six-year-old conflict, might bring a U.S. response.