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Syria crisis: Western countries plan to bypass Russia's UN veto over Douma chemical attack

Russia has used its veto 12 times to block UN action targeting President Bashar al-Assad’s regime

Samuel Osborne
Tuesday 24 April 2018 18:30 BST
Syria air strikes: How events unfolded

Western countries are reportedly planning to bypass Russia’s veto at the UN security council over Syria by referring concerns about the suspected use of chemical weapons to the UN general assembly.

Russia has used its veto 12 times to block UN action targeting the regime of its ally, Bashar al-Assad.

In November, it used its veto to block the extension of a UN mechanism to attribute responsibility for chemical weapons attacks.

Western nations blamed the Syrian government for a poison gas attack on the town of Douma earlier this month, which killed dozens of people and led the US, Britain and France to launch 105 missiles targeting chemical weapons facilities in retaliation.

The Syrian regime and Russia deny involvement or the use of chemical weapons.

Western officials are reportedly supporting the idea of turning to a rarely used diplomatic route in order to clear the impasse, known as “uniting for peace”, which would allow nine members of the security council to refer their concerns to a vote at the general assembly, bypassing Russia’s veto.

A two-thirds majority in the general assembly would then be required to agree upon an attribution mechanism.

“The Russian veto need not be the end of efforts for collective action by the UN,” Ian Martin, a human rights activist and former UN official, told The Guardian.

“The responsibility of asserting accountability for the use of chemical weapons, and for bringing an end to the horrors of the Syrian conflict, rests with the world community as a whole.”

A toddler needs oxygen following a suspected poison gas attack in Douma (Syrian Civil Defence/White Helmets via AP) (Syrian Civil Defense White Helmets via AP)

It comes as the United Nations special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, stressed that the latest territorial gains by the Syrian regime and its allies have not brought peace any closer to the country.

“We’re seeing in last few weeks, days ... that military gains, territorial gains and military escalation does not bring a political solution, has not brought any change. On the contrary,” he said.

On Monday, foreign ministers from the Group of Seven (G7) leading industrialised nations united to condemn Russia for what they said was ”a pattern of irresponsible and destabilising” behaviour.

They urged Moscow to help resolve the conflict in Syria and agreed to create a working group to study the Kremlin’s “malign behaviour”.

John Sullivan, the acting US secretary of state, called on Moscow to stop creating impediments to peace in Syria, and to play a role in ending the seven-year-long conflict.

“Russia must be a constructive partner in Syria or will be held accountable,” he said.

Speaking to reporters on the margins of the meeting, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said G7 ministers had agreed on the need to be vigilant about Russia.

“What we decided ... was that we were going to set up a G7 group that would look at Russian malign behaviour in all its manifestations – whether it’s cyber warfare, whether it’s disinformation, assassination attempts, whatever it happens to be, and collectively try to call it out.”

German’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, said the meeting established “again that there will be no political solution in Syria without Russia ... and that Russia has to contribute its share to such a solution.”

While supporting the air strikes in Syria, the G7 statement said they were “limited, proportionate and necessary – and taken only after exhausting every possible diplomatic option to uphold the international norm against the use of chemical weapons.”

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