UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY) – The United States clashed with Russia over Syria at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, both opposing the other’s attempt to conduct international investigations into chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Moscow and Washington have stopped each other’s attempts at the UN Security Council to launch an investigation into chemical weapons attacks in Syria, which is in its eighth year of civil war.
The United States and other Western powers are considering military action to punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for what is believed to be a poison gas attack on Saturday against the opposition-held city of Duma, which has long stood against Syrian government forces.
The White House said that US President Donald Trump canceled Tuesday a scheduled tour to Latin America this week to focus on the response to the Syrian incident. Trump warned on Monday of a quick and strong response once he was sure who was responsible for the chemical attack in Syria.
In the meantime, the European Organization for Aviation Safety (Eurocontrol) called on airlines on Tuesday to be cautious in the eastern Mediterranean for the possibility of air strikes in Syria within 72 hours.
“Care should be taken when planning flight operations in the FIR of Nicosia,” the organization said on its website. The organization did not specify the source of any potential threat.
Eurocontrol cited in its warning a document of the European Agency for Aviation Safety, which could not be obtained.
Diplomatically, the Security Council has failed to pass three draft resolutions on chemical weapons attacks in Syria. Russia vetoed a US draft resolution that sought to establish an official responsible for such attacks, while two draft resolutions by Russia failed to obtain nine votes, the minimum required to adopt any draft resolution of the Council, which can only be used after The veto.
Moscow opposes any Western strike on its close ally Assad and blocked the Security Council’s move on Syria 12 times.
US Ambassador to the United Nations Nicky Healy said the adoption of the US draft resolution was the least that could be done by member states.
“History will record that on this day Russia preferred to protect the lives of the Syrian people,” she said, referring to Assad.
At least 60 people were killed and more than a thousand injured in an alleged chemical attack on several sites in Duma on Saturday, according to a Syrian relief organization.
Doctors and witnesses said the victims had symptoms of poisoning likely to be caused by nerve gas and spoke of the smell of chlorine gas.
– Russian accusations –
The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vasily Nibenzia, said Washington’s decision to present its draft resolution could be a prelude to a Western strike on Syria.
After the Security Council failed to pass a third draft resolution on chemical weapons attacks in Syria, Nibenzia told Haley: “I ask you again. I ask you once again to refrain from the plans you are currently developing for Syria.”
Experts from the International Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are expected to go to Douma to investigate the alleged chemical attack
France and Britain discussed with the Trump administration how to respond to the attack. Both countries stressed the need to verify who was responsible for the attack.
An attack has always brought the Syrian conflict back to the forefront in the international arena, with Washington and Moscow facing each other again.
Trump said he would make a quick decision on the response within a few days, adding that the United States had “many military options” on Syria.
It is likely that any strike will involve naval assets, given the threat to aircraft from Russian and Syrian air defense systems. And in the Mediterranean Sea, destroyed by the US Navy’s Donald Cook, with guided missiles.
Two sources from the US government said one of the main issues being studied by US defense and intelligence agencies and war planners was the effectiveness of Syrian air defenses and the size of Russian assistance in organizing and, ultimately, directing Syrian air defense operations.
Last year, the United States launched strikes from two naval destroyers against a Syrian air base.
A US military move similar to that of Washington last year would make a shift in the war that has been favoring Assad since 2015 with massive support from Iran and Russia.
There is little expectation that members of Congress will object as Trump has dealt a blow to Syria, although some lawmakers have demanded a parliamentary mandate for any military action.
French President Emmanuel Macaron said on Tuesday that any strikes would not target Syrian government allies or anyone but the chemical installations of the Syrian government.
– Investigation of chemical weapons –
In The Hague, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said on Tuesday it had asked Syria to arrange for an investigation team to be deployed.
“The team is preparing to deploy in Syria soon,” she said in a statement.
Their mission is to determine whether banned munitions were used but will not be blamed.
The Assad government and Russia urged the organization to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in Duma in a move apparently aimed at avoiding any US-led action.
“Syria confirms its keenness to cooperate with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to uncover the truth of the allegations promoted by some Western parties in order to justify its aggressive intentions to serve its political objectives,” the official SANA news agency quoted an official source as saying.
A European source said that European governments are waiting for the organization to conduct its investigation and the emergence of compelling evidence of the attack. The source said a plan for the United States and its allies to carry out military action will remain suspended until then.
A previous investigation by the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded that Syrian government forces used sarin gas in an attack in 2017 and used chlorine gas as a weapon several times.
In Syria, thousands of fighters and their families arrived in the north-west of Syria under the control of the armed opposition after the city of Douma was handed over to government forces.
The extradition agreement means Assad’s return to control the entire eastern Ghouta after it was the largest opposition stronghold near Damascus and gave him his biggest field victory since 2016 when he regained Aleppo.
Adding to the tension, Iran, the other main ally of Assad, threatened to retaliate for an air strike on a Syrian military base. Tehran, Damascus and Moscow blamed the attack on Israel.
Meanwhile, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said there was no chance of a confrontation in Syria leading to a military clash between Russia and the United States.
Tass quoted Bogdanov as saying there were “working contacts” between Russian and US officials about Syria, adding that he felt common sense would eventually prevail.
A French navy source said on Tuesday that a Russian warplane flew over a low-altitude French warship in the eastern Mediterranean at the weekend in a deliberate violation of international rules.
The Russian weekly Le Journal said the Russian plane flew over the Aktien frigate and was heavily armed. The French frigate was equipped with sixteen surface-to-air missiles. The frigate is currently operating off the coast of Lebanon along with US ships under French forces fighting the Islamic state organization in Syria and Iraq.
Despite the international community’s rejection of chemical weapons attacks, the deaths of such incidents in the dozens, a small number compared to the hundreds of thousands of dead fighters and civilians who were victims of the conflict that began in 2011.