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Delhi skirts Assad criticism

Finger at IS for use of chemical weapons

By Our Special Correspondent
  • Published 15.07.17
A man walks past damaged buildings in Deraa in Syria on Thursday; (below) file picture of Bashar al-Assad. (Reuters)

New Delhi, July 14: India steered clear of criticism of the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad at a key international meet on chemical warfare yesterday, while articulating concerns over the reported acquisition of chemical weapons by the Islamic State terror group.

The comments at the executive council of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) came days after the agency had identified the nerve agent Sarin as the cause of an April chemical attack in the north-western Syrian city of Khan Sheikhoun.

At least 74 people were killed and more than 500 were injured in the April 4 attack, which the US and European nations like France have blamed on the Assad regime.

Syria and Russia have blamed militants and terror outfits - especially the Al Nusra front, an affiliate of the al Qaida that controlled the city at the time - for the attack. Many other countries have indicated that evidence available so far leaves the identity of the perpetrators unclear.

India had condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria right after the April attack, but had refrained from ascribing responsibility. Yesterday, it suggested terror groups may have been behind the attack.

"My delegation is deeply concerned at the reported use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic," India's ambassador to the Netherlands and permanent representative to the OPCW, Venu Rajamony, said at the meeting.

"My delegation is deeply concerned with reports of acquisition of chemical weapons and their delivery systems by the so-called 'Islamic State' or ISIS/ISIL. We condemn the use of chemical weapons and toxic chemicals in Syria and Iraq by terrorists."

India's position at the OPCW is in keeping with a quiet and increasing confidence in supporting the Russia-Syria coalition's argument of focusing the international community's attention on battling the IS and other terror groups.

Though the American position on Syria is officially diametrically opposite, US President Donald Trump has indicated willingness to work with Russia on enforcing a joint ceasefire aimed at separating civilians from terrorists in Syria.

"Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding," Trump said in a post on Twitter after his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Hamburg on the margins of the G20 Summit. "Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good."

The potential for enhanced cooperation between the US and Russia on Syria has added to India's confidence, two officials here suggested, that it need worry less about taking positions on the civil war there.

"My delegation welcomes the completion of destruction of Syrian chemical weapons and progress made so far in the matter of destruction of Syria's chemical weapons production facilities," Rajamony said, before referring to the Khan Sheikhoun attack.

"We hope that the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism will take forward the findings of the fact-finding mission and identify the perpetrators of this abhorrent act."

Trump's willingness to work with Russia on Syria builds on an approach his predecessor Barack Obama followed towards the end of his tenure. That allowed India to host Walid Muallem, the Deputy Prime Minister of Syria, in January 2015. Last year, India's junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar visited Damascus in August and met Assad.