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UN approves resolution condemning use of chlorine in Syria

March 6, 2015 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. Security Council on Friday approved a United States-drafted resolution that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, while threatening militarily enforced action in the case of further violations.

All members of the 15-seat council approved the resolution except for Venezuela, which abstained.

The resolution follows last month’s condemnation by the world’s chemical weapons watchdog of the use of chlorine in Syria as a breach of international law. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ fact-finding mission concluded “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used on three villages in Syria last year, killing 13 people.

The OPCW did not assign blame, but some council members such as Britain, France and the United States have blamed Syria’s government for the attacks, pointing out that the fact-finding reports linked chlorine attacks to helicopters and that only Syria’s government has helicopters.

Chlorine is not a chemical that has to be declared to the OPCW because it is also used for regular purposes in industry.

Russia on Friday again expressed skepticism about blaming the Syrian government, which is its ally. Syria denies using chlorine or other chemical weapons and blames “terrorists” for such attacks.

“The Syrian government has nothing to hide,” Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja’afari told reporters after the meeting. He also lashed out at some council members for blaming his government for atrocities related to the “so-called chemical issue” and other issues.

“These people are like hyenas. The more they kill, the more they are hungry,” Ja’afari said.

Venezuelan Ambassador Rafael Ramirez said the council should wait until any investigation into the use of chlorine is complete before taking up the issue. The South American country, which has an antagonistic relationship with the United States, has long defended the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The resolution threatens action against further violations under a council resolution in 2013 that banned Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The resolution also applies to any party in the Syrian conflict, which is about to enter its fifth year and has killed an estimated 220,000 people.

The resolution says such actions should be imposed under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, meaning they could be militarily enforced.

Syria joined the OPCW in 2013 and declared a 1,300-ton chemical weapon arsenal that has since been destroyed, though some council members worry that the government didn’t declare everything it had. “Significant discrepancies remain with Syria’s declaration,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power told the council Friday.

Syria’s move to join the OPCW came amid international outcry and the threat of U.S. airstrikes over a chemical attack on a Damascus suburb that killed hundreds of civilians. The U.S. and Western allies accused the Syrian government of being responsible for that attack, while Damascus blamed rebels.

The 2013 resolution was a rare agreement on Syria by the council, which has been blocked from taking other actions by the threat of a veto from Russia, Syria’s ally. An attempt to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court last year, for example, failed.

British Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant on Friday noted that failure but warned, “Today’s important resolution puts the Syrian regime on notice that if we receive further credible reports of use of chlorine as a weapon, then this council will take action.”