UN Security Council schedules meeting on Syria

 New York (AP) – The U.N. Security Council has scheduled another emergency meeting Friday at Russia’s request on the threat to international peace from possible air strikes on Syria by the U.S. and its allies.
Russia had requested a briefing by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. But there was no briefing on the U.N. chief’s schedule for Friday, which was released Thursday night.

It was not clear who might brief the Security Council.

China and Bolivia backed Russia’s call for a briefing by Guterres.

The open meeting is scheduled at 10 a.m. EDT Friday

Russia says its military police have begun operating in the Syrian city of Douma, following the pullout of anti-government fighters.

Maj.-Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko said Thursday that the MPs are deployed “to prevent provocations, guarantee security, for the support of law and order and organize aid for the local population.”

Yevtushenko heads the Russian center for reconciliation of the warring parties in Syria.

Russia’s Defense Ministry said earlier Thursday that Douma was under the control of Syrian forces and that some 1,500 fighters of the Army of Islam group had left the city.

The British Cabinet has given Prime Minister Theresa May the green light to join the U.S. and France in planning military strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

After meeting for more than two hours on Thursday, the Cabinet backed May’s plan to work with the two allies “to coordinate an international response.” But it gave no indication of the timing or scale of any action.

The three nations have been working on a plan for military strikes in response to last week’s attack in Douma.

May’s office said the Cabinet “agreed on the need to take action to alleviate humanitarian distress and to deter the further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.”

Opposition lawmakers have called for Parliament to be given a vote before any military action. May isn’t legally required to do that, though it is conventional.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador is calling for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council to hear from Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on threat to international peace and security from possible military action against Syria by the U.S. and its allies.

Vassily Nebenzia told reporters after a closed council meeting Thursday on chemical weapons in Syria that he hopes an open meeting with the U.N. chief can be held “soon.”

Nebenzia says: “The immediate priority is to avert the danger of war.”

He said the second priority now is to get inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to the Damascus suburb of Douma where a suspected poisonous gas attack took place last weekend to see what happened — and “that nothing prevents them from doing it.”

The OPCW said Thursday the investigators will start work on Saturday.

Russia’s U.N. ambassador says the top priority now is to avert war in Syria and doesn’t rule out the possibility of a U.S.-Russian conflict.

Vassily Nebenzia said Russia is very concerned with “the dangerous escalation” of the situation and “aggressive policies” and preparations that some governments are making, a clear reference to the Trump administration and its allies.

He said: “We hope that there will be no point of no return — that the U.S. and their allies will refrain from military action against a sovereign state.”

Nebenzia told reporters after a closed emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday that “the danger of escalation is higher than simply Syria, because our military are there on the invitation of the Syrian government.”

Sweden has proposed a way forward to the paralyzed U.N. Security Council that would include immediately sending a high-level disarmament mission to Syria to address outstanding issues on the use of chemical weapons “once and for all.”

A Swedish draft resolution, circulated to council members Thursday and obtained by AP, would also express the council’s determination to establish “a new impartial, independent and professional” investigative body to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

It would ask Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to submit proposals to the council within 10 days.

The draft would also give council support to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ fact-finding mission that Sweden’s U.N. Ambassador Olof Skoog said “is on its way” to Syria to determine whether chemical weapons were used in the Damascus suburb of Douma last weekend.

Skoog said he expects the proposal to be addressed at Thursday’s closed-door emergency council meeting on Syria.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says that a special fact-finding mission is on its way to Syria and will start investigating the suspected chemical attack there as of Saturday.

The OPCW team will be seeking to find out if and what kind of chemicals were used in the attack of last weekend, the organization based in the Netherlands said in a statement on Thursday.

Western powers are convinced a chemical attack was instigated by the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad while Syria and Russia have dispelled such reports.

Britain’s U.N. ambassador says she will be stressing at an emergency Security Council meeting that chemical weapons are being used on innocent civilians in Syria, and Russia “has not lived up to its responsibilities to prevent that happening.”

Karen Pierce told reporters before Thursday’s closed council session called by Bolivia, a Russian ally, that the U.K. believes a fact-finding mission by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is important to determine whether chemical weapons were used last weekend in the Damascus suburb of Douma, and if so what kind.

But Pierce said she will also stress that “an independent investigation is needed to establish who is responsible.”

Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution last November to renew the joint U.N.-OPCW body that was determining responsibility, and rival U.S. and Russian resolutions to replace that body were defeated on Tuesday.

Syria’s U.N. ambassador says it will facilitate a visit by international chemical weapons inspectors at “any point they want” in the town where a suspected gas attack occurred last weekend.

Speaking in New York on Thursday, Bashar Ja’afari said an inspection team from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is on its way to Damascus and that visas are being provided.

Ja’afari said any delay or “disruption of their visit” would be as a result of “political pressure” from Western countries, which Syria says have politicized the issue.

Ja’afari denied his government has used chemical weapons and said “terrorists” have access to such weapons.

The attack last weekend in the town of Douma killed more than 40 people, according to Syrian opposition activists and rescuers. The U.S. and its allies blamed government forces, and have threatened military action.

Bolivia’s U.N. ambassador, who has called an emergency Security Council meeting on the threat of an attack on Syria, said he wants all members to agree that “no unilateral action should be taken.”

Sacha Llorentty Soliz said any unilateral action against Syria should be considered “illegal” by all countries.

He told reporters ahead of Thursday’s closed council meeting that his message to the U.S. government “is for them to comply with international law, to at least have at first a complete investigation of what happened” in the Damascus suburb of Douma, where a chemical attack is alleged to have taken place late Saturday.

After an investigation, he said, the Security Council should be asked “to adopt any measures” in response to the findings.

The U.S., Britain and France blame Syria for the suspected gas attack in Douma, while Syria and its close ally Russia deny any attack took place.

Officials from President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office say the Turkish leader and Russia’s Vladimir Putin have discussed the latest developments in Syria and agreed to keep in close contact.

The officials said the two leaders held a telephone conversation on Thursday hours after Erdogan said he would discuss ways of ending the “chemical massacre” in Syria with Putin.

The officials provided the information on condition of anonymity in line with government regulations.

Erdogan earlier criticized the United States and Russia, accusing them of “relying on their military might” and of turning Syria into “a virtual wrestling ground.”

He said Turkey’s traditional ties to the West and growing ties to Russia and Iran were no obstacles to Ankara pointing out their mistakes.

NATO is calling on Russia and Iran to make sure that international observers and medical staff are being allowed in and around the area of the suspected chemical attack in Syria.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that beyond Syrian President Bashar Assad, the alliance also wants Syria’s “supporters Iran and Russia to make that possible — both to allow international observers but also to allow medical assistance access to the area.”

Stoltenberg said that consultation were ongoing among the NATO allies on how to respond to the suspected chemical attack, and said “it is important that those responsible are held accountable.”

Syrian opposition activists and medics say a suspected gas attack last week killed more than 40 people in Douma, a town outside the capital that was then controlled by Syrian rebels. The Syrian government has denied the allegations.

The Russian military says government forces are now in full control of Douma.

Russia has warned the U.S. and its allies against assuming the role of a “global policeman” in response to what it describes as fake claims of chemical weapons use in Syria.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday that Western leaders have no authority to be “investigators, prosecutors and executioners.”

Syrian opposition activists and medics say a suspected gas attack last week killed more than 40 people in Douma, a town outside the capital that was then controlled by Syrian rebels. The Syrian government has denied the allegations.

Zakharova described the allegations as fake, but said the international chemical weapons watchdog should investigate them. She said Russia would ensure the monitors’ security.

Zakharova called for de-escalating the situation, urging the West to carefully weigh the consequences before taking any action.

An aide to Iran’s supreme leader says he hopes Syrian forces will “expel the American occupiers” in the country’s northeast after they retake other areas of the country from insurgents.

Ali Akbar Velayati, speaking in the Syrian capital on Thursday, said he visited eastern Ghouta a day earlier, calling the capture of the Damascus suburbs one of the most important victories of the seven-year civil war.

Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent thousands of troops and allied militiamen to support his forces.

Velayati said he hoped the northern Idlib province, which is dominated by al-Qaida militants would be the next to fall to government forces. He said Assad’s forcers should then push east of the Euphrates River, where U.S. troops are embedded with Kurdish forces.

He said: “We are hopeful that major and extensive steps are taken later to liberate this area and expel the American occupiers.”

President Emmanuel Macron says France has proof that the Syrian government launched chlorine gas attacks.

Macron said Thursday that France would not tolerate “regimes that think everything is permitted.” Speaking on TF1 television, Macron said “we have proof that chemical weapons were used, at least chlorine” in recent days by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government.

He did not say whether France is planning military action against Assad’s government. Macron said he has been talking regularly this week with U.S. President Donald Trump about the most effective response.

With increasing concerns about a U.S.-Russia proxy war in Syria, Macron insisted that “France will not allow an escalation or something that could damage the stability” of the region. On Tuesday, Macron said any French action would target Syria’s chemical weapons abilities.

Syrian opposition activists and medics say a suspected gas attack last week in Douma killed more than 40 people. The Syrian government has denied the allegations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany won’t participate in possible military action in Syria, but supports sending a message that the use of chemical weapons is unacceptable.

Merkel stressed the importance of a united position in the face of a suspected chemical weapons attack that the West is blaming on President Bashar Assad’s forces. She said she spoke Thursday with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Merkel said in Berlin: “Germany will not take part in possible military action — I want to make clear again that there are no decisions — but we see, and support this, that everything is being done to send a signal that this use of chemical weapons is not acceptable.”



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