U.N. to vote on Syria resolution; Russia opposed

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to approve resolution calling for a political transition in Syria and strongly condemning President Bashar Assad's regime

U.N. to vote on Syria resolution; Russia opposed

World Bulletin/News Desk

The U.N. General Assembly is set to vote on Wednesday on a draft resolution that condemns Syrian authorities and accepts the opposition Syrian National Coalition as party to a potential political transition.

Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, is opposed to the resolution, which was drafted by Qatar and other Arab nations and circulated among the 193 U.N. member states. Some Western diplomats said it was unlikely to win as many votes as a resolution that passed last year with 133 in favor.

No country has a veto in the General Assembly.

"I'm convinced a lot of countries voted for this text because they believed they were voting for the winning side," a senior western U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said in reference to the August, 2012 resolution. "They are not so sure anymore."

The Syrian conflict started more than two years ago with mainly peaceful demonstrations against Assad, but turned into a civil war in which the United Nations says at least 70,000 people have been killed.

Wednesday's vote comes as Washington and European governments have been mulling the benefits and risks of supplying arms to Syrian rebels.

Another senior U.N. diplomat, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, said this draft resolution was stronger than the earlier resolution, prompting Russia to write to all states to complain that it was unbalanced. The diplomat said Russia had also warned that it could hinder preparations for a Syria peace conference, as agreed by Russia and the United States.

A dispute between Russia and the United States over how to end Syria's war has left the U.N. Security Council paralyzed to act. They both agreed last week to convene a peace conference on Syria, but that plan already appears to be hitting snags over who should represent the opposition.

The current draft U.N. resolution welcomes the establishment of the Syrian National Coalition "as effective representative interlocutors needed for a political transition."

CHEMICAL WEAPONS PROBE

But diplomats said some countries may be concerned that the draft resolution could be considered as official U.N. recognition of the coalition as the representative of the Syrian people.

"It's very likely the vote will not be as high as last year," said another senior western U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But we clearly don't want the numbers to go below 100 or 110."

The Syrian National Coalition has been recognized by the 130 international representatives comprising the "Friends of Syria" group of nations and the Arab League as "the legitimate representative of the Syrian people."

The draft resolution condemns "all violence, irrespective of where it comes from," continued escalation in the use of heavy weapons by Syrian authorities, the shelling and shooting by Syrian troops into neighboring nations and human rights abuses.

It also demands that the Syrian authorities grant unfettered access to a U.N. team investigating allegations that chemical weapons have been used in the conflict. The Syrian government and the opposition have accused each other of carrying out chemical weapons attacks. Both deny the accusations.

The draft resolution further welcomes Arab League decisions relevant to reaching a political solution, but does not reference an agreement by the league that member states have the right to provide military support to Syrians fighting Assad's troops.

In August there were 12 votes against the Syria resolution and 31 abstentions and some countries did not participate. Russia was among those that opposed it. China, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Cuba and other states that often criticize the West also voted against it.

The draft resolution reaffirms U.N. support for U.N.-Arab League Syria mediator Lakhdar Brahimi, who recently agreed to stay on in the role despite his frustration at the international deadlock that has prevented Security Council action to halt the conflict.

CONFIRMING POISON GAS USE WILL BE TOUGH TASK

It took Tokyo police just three hours to confirm the use of sarin gas when members of a doomsday cult attacked five crowded subway cars in 1995, killing 13 people and sickening thousands of passengers.

The same lethal nerve gas is now at the centre of alleged chemical weapons use in Syria's two-year-old civil war, but the UN-appointed inspectors tasked with the investigation have a much harder challenge than faced Japan's hospital laboratories.

In Tokyo, high concentrations of sarin were immediately found at the scene, where assailants released the colourless, odourless chemical from plastic bags by puncturing them with sharpened umbrella tips.

In Syria, about two months have passed since the first allegations of sarin use arose on March 19, when rebels and government forces blamed each other for an attack in Aleppo province in which dozens are said to have been killed.

Syria has not allowed testing at the site and has refused the UN investigators access to determine the use of sarin, which interferes with the mechanism by which neurotransmitters act on muscles, preventing them from relaxing. Death usually occurs because the muscles involved in breathing cannot function.

The UN team of more than 15 experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the World Health Organization are waiting in Cyprus for permission to enter.

"What is needed is the collection and analysis of an authentic sample," said Ralf Trapp, an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons control.

"The longer the UN investigation team has to wait on the outside, the lower is the chance of actually finding a meaningful sample," he said.

Western powers including the United States and Britain have said there is a growing body of evidence of chemical weapons use in Syria and they are considering taking firmer action to stop the fighting, which has claimed about 70,000 lives.

PAST EXPERIENCE

Syria is one of just eight countries not to have joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which took effect in 1997, and it is therefore not subject to an inspection regimes. Intelligence agencies believe it possesses one of the largest stockpiles of chemical weapons, including sarin.

In the 1995 attack, Tokyo's fire department first suspected acetonitrile, a colourless liquid that is a manufacturing by-product and is only mildly toxic, said Japanese doctors who helped treat more than 1,400 patients at St. Luke's Hospital.

One clue that put them on the right track to identify the correct agent was reduced enzyme activity in the nervous systems of more than 500 patients flooding emergency rooms.

Another factor that helped in identification was the experience of doctors who had treated victims of a smaller sarin attack less than a year earlier in Matsumoto that killed seven.

BLOOD SAMPLES

One way to test for sarin is to examine the blood or urine of people or animals believed to have been exposed.

Turkey's foreign minister said last week Syrian casualties crossing the border showed signs of exposure to chemical weapons, the use of which President Barack Obama said in August marked a "red line" that could prompt intervention.

With the 2003 Iraq invasion in mind, Washington has been cautious of basing policy on false intelligence and said it was seeking greater levels of proof in Syria.

Scientific evidence would raise the chance of intervention against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to end the conflict.

Speed is crucial because the quality of a sample, whether from human tissue or soil, deteriorates rapidly.

Within just a few weeks, the level of sarin may no longer be measurable on metal fragments, the impact crater of a rocket, or in a victim's body.

The biological symptoms fade even more quickly, said professor Hirotaro Iwase, a forensic pathologist at Chiba University, who performed autopsies after the Tokyo attacks.

One such symptom is a constriction of the pupils or frothing of the mouth, which were mentioned by the Israeli intelligence agency last month as proof of sarin use in Syria.

"If you come across multiple patients with these symptoms in an area where agricultural chemicals are not around, you suspect the use of sarin," Hirotaro said.

Last Mod: 15 Mayıs 2013, 13:22
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