|The News Line: Feature
Thursday, 14 March 2019
OPCW chemical watchdog report ‘full of discrepancies’
‘THE Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) could not come up with an unbiased report on the alleged 2018 chemical attack in Douma, as acknowledging that it was faked would have made the US strikes against Syria illegitimate,’ the Russian envoy to the OPCW said on Monday.
|White helmets in Syria prepare a film in Ghouta to depict a chemical attack
In early March, the final report by the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the OPCW stated that there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that ‘molecular chlorine’ was used as a chemical weapon in the Syrian city of Douma on April 7th, 2018.
On Monday, Russian experts held a press-conference to respond to that paper. Moscow’s Permanent Representative to the OPCW, Alexander Shulgin, said after the event that the chemical arms watchdog’s findings were ‘full of gaps, discrepancies and inconsistencies.’ ‘We noted that the report by the FFM disregarded the briefing organised (at the OPCW’s own headquarters) in (late April) 2018 with the unwilling witnesses or even ‘unwilling comedians’ that took part in the video performed by the White Helmets,’ Shulgin said.
More than a dozen people testified back then, saying that there was no chemical attack in Douma and that they’d been forced to star in the fake footage, devised by the members of the White Helmets, a Western-backed aid group with apparent links to terrorists.
‘There’s a small footnote in the FFM’s report, saying that (the statements by) alleged witnesses … were dealt with like information from open sources. Somehow this very important information was dismissed.’ Shulgin recalled that the Syrian authorities have, on numerous occasions, reported that stockpiles of chemical weapons have been discovered in areas liberated from the terrorists and the OPCW is well aware of that.
‘In Douma, there was also a warehouse with chlorine barrels and the (FFM) experts refused to inspect it, alleging that it was too dangerous to handle these items.’ So the investigation failed to uncover what really happened in Douma despite the fact that ‘from the very beginning the Syrians were very open. The (OPCW) Technical Secretariat experts were given access to all the places they needed to examine.
‘Moreover, the Russian military police also did their best to secure the work of the Technical Secretariat experts,’ the Russian envoy pointed out. With Western politicians and mainstream media at the time rushing to pin the blame for the Douma incident on the Syrian government, the OPCW was ‘under a kind of pressure’ during the probe, Shulgin said.
‘The only reasonable explanation’ for the FFM report turning out the way it did ‘is that admitting that it was a staged provocation in Douma in April 2018 would deny the US and their allies the legitimacy they claimed for carrying out the missile strike on Syria on April 14 last year. ‘My impression is that the (OPCW) Technical Secretariat experts simply didn’t dare to contradict the version put forward by the Americans, who didn’t hesitate to finger the Syrian authorities as the main culprits.
‘The US, UK, and France used the alleged attack as a pretext to launch a large-scale missile attack on Syria, with more than a hundred Tomahawk missiles fired at facilities the attackers claimed were involved in the production of toxic agents. ‘They opted to act days before the OPCW team was due to arrive in Douma on its fact-finding mission.
‘The FFM report didn’t name the side responsible for the purported use of chemical weapons in Douma because it’s the task of the attribution team that is about to begin its work.’ Shulgin expressed the belief that ‘there’s absolutely no doubt that this attribution team will draw the conclusion necessary for the American side, and this will be for the US and their allies yet another reason to maybe carry out new unilateral actions against the Syrian authorities.’
Despite all this, the Russian delegation is ‘trying to be constructive. We’re not questioning the competence of OPCW Technical Secretariat experts. We’re ready to work further,’ he added.
The envoy also pointed out that the news conference provided only ‘preliminary assessment by the Russian experts. We’re still working on this report. Our final conclusions will be provided a little bit later.’
Last month a BBC producer said he believes that scenes from the hospital in Syria’s Douma, which ignited a media frenzy in 2018 after showing children allegedly suffering from chemicals, were staged. Emotive scenes of Syrian civilians, among them crying, choking, half-naked children, dominated the airwaves in April last year after rebel-affiliated mouthpieces reported yet another ‘chemical attack by the Assad regime’ in the town of Douma.
Disturbing reports, including some from the controversial White Helmets, claimed scores of people had been killed and injured. Mainstream media quickly picked up the horrific (but unverified) videos from a Douma hospital, where victims were treated after this ‘poison attack’.
That hospital scene was enough to assemble a UN emergency session and prompt the US-led ‘coalition of the willing’ to rain down dozens of missiles on Damascus and other locations. But Riam Dalati, a reputable BBC producer who has long reported from the Middle East, took the liberty of trying to sift through the fog of the Syrian war.
He believes Syrian government forces did attack the town, but that the much-publicised hospital scenes were staged. ‘After almost six months of investigations, I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged. No fatalities occurred in the hospital,’ he said.
He said his sources among the White Helmets and the opposition spoke to him from Idlib and the area of the Euphrates Shield operation staged by Turkey and Syrian rebels – territories outside of the Syrian government’s reach – and one person who was in Damascus.
Dalati also says that an attack ‘did happen’ but that sarin, a weapons-grade nerve agent, was not used. He said: ‘We’ll have to wait for the OPCW to prove chlorine or otherwise.’ However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.
The journalist said Jaysh al-Islam, an Islamist faction that fought the Syrian army there, ‘ruled Douma with an iron fist. They co-opted activists, doctors and humanitarians by fear and intimidation.’
Dalati’s revelations could have become a bombshell news report, but instead it was met with a deafening media silence. His employers preferred to distance themselves from his findings.
The BBC said in a statement that Dalati was expressing ‘his personal opinions about some of the video footage that emerged after the attack but has not claimed that the attack did not happen.’ After a while, Dalati restricted access to his Twitter account which is now open only to confirmed followers.
Interestingly, his previous inputs did not sit well with the official narrative either.
‘Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative,’ he said in a tweet which he later deleted over ‘the breach of editorial policy.’
In all, Dalati is not a lone voice in the wilderness. The Intercept has recently run a story that also cast doubt on the mainstream coverage of Douma, although it doesn’t doubt that the attack itself happened. A veteran British reporter Robert Fisk suggested there was no gas attack at all, saying people there were suffering from oxygen starvation.
Witnesses of the ‘chemical attack,’ for their part, told international investigators the story was a set-up. Moscow, which supports Damascus in its fight against terrorists, has long stated the Douma incident was staged, calling for an international OPCW inquiry.
Last year, the Defence Ministry presented what it said was proof the ‘provocation’ was to trigger Western airstrikes against Syrian government forces. This time, the military recalled a similar 2017 incident in Khan Sheikhoun, where an alleged chemical attack took place. The ministry’s spokesman Igor Konashenkov said that a closer inspection of footage from that location clearly shows this was a set-up as well.
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