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    Volunteers take part in a simulation of how to respond to a chemical attack, in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo (File)

    Russian MoD Slams HRW's 'Amateurish' Claims Syrian Army Used Chemical Weapons

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    Human Rights Watch's claims that the Syrian government troops used chemical weapons are amateurish, the Russian Defense Ministry said Tuesday.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) — The HRW's new report states that the Syrian Army used chemical weapons in opposition-controlled areas at least eight times in 2016.

    "Such reports, drafted by amateurs, citing data from social networks and stories by unknown anonymous eyewitnesses by phone, destroy the already controversial reputation of Human Rights Watch," ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov told reporters.

    He stressed that in case the watchdog really wanted to examine the issue of chemical weapons in Syria, it should have started with mustard gas use by militants in September 2016 in the village of Marat-Um-Haouch.

    "This crime has real witnesses, including Russian and foreign journalists, there are real victims with specific names, real weapons with traces of mustard gas and soil samples that were discovered," Konashenkov said.

    On Monday, the watchdog presented a report at the United Nations, saying that Damascus conducted chemical attacks in the opposition-held part of Aleppo during the final months of the fight for the city. The HRW, basing on data obtained from in-person interviews with witnesses as well as video footage and photographs, concluded that government helicopters dropped chlorine in the residential areas of Aleppo at least eight times in the period between November 17, 2016 and December 13. The organization also called on the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria and urged the country's government to stop using chemicals as weapons and assist the UN-appointed investigation.

    So far, there has been a number of reports on use of chemical weapons in Syria, putting responsibility for attacks both on Syrian authorities and Islamic State (IS, banned in Russia) terrorist group.

    In October 2016, the UN Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) on the chemical weapons use in Syria said that the Syrian authorities used chemical weapons at least three times throughout 2014-2015, while an earlier report said the IS was also responsible for several attacks.

    Despite lack of conclusive evidence, a number of countries, in particular the United Kingdom, France, and the United States, blamed the Syrian government for the chemical attacks. Syrian President Bashar Assad though denied all accusations, claiming the reports failed to provide conclusive evidence of its culpability and putting blame on the terrorist groups. The Russian authorities have repeatedly called on necessity to double-check such kind of reports, stressing that conclusions cannot be simply made on interviews of several local residents.

    In late October-early November 2016, a number of chemical attacks were conducted in Syria's city of Aleppo by militants, killing dozens of Syrian servicemen and civilians. The Syrian government urged the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to conduct the investigation, while the Russian Defense Ministry handed the results of the chemical use probe to Syria’s national regulator in charge of implementing the OPCW convention.

    Earlier on February, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it expected more effective work from the OPCW, adding that the organization's act-finding mission in Syria had conducted its activity over the past years remotely by interviewing witnesses, which raised questions over information's credibility.

    Since 2011, Syria has been engulfed in a civil war, with government forces fighting against numerous opposition and terrorist groups, including al-Nusra Front and Daesh, banned in a range of countries, including Russia.

    Related:

    OPCW's Chemical Weapons Probes in Syria, Iraq Inefficient - Russian FM
    Daesh Possibly Used Mosul University for Chemical Weapons Production - Coalition
    Moscow: Escalating Issue of Chemical Weapons Use in Syria Harmful to UNSC Work
    Tags:
    chemical weapons, The Syrian war, Human Rights Watch, Russian Defense Ministry, Igor Konashenkov, Syria, Russia
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