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Israel hits Syria site reportedly used for chemical weapons
by Staff Writers
Damascus (AFP) Sept 7, 2017

Syria opposition slams 'shocking' UN envoy statement
Istanbul (AFP) Sept 7, 2017 - Syria's opposition on Thursday criticised the UN's Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura after he urged it to be "realistic" and said it had not won the country's six-year war.

"These statements are, to say the very least, shocking and disappointing," said Nasr al-Hariri, head of the opposition's negotiations delegation, at a press conference in Istanbul.

He said De Mistura was well aware "which party has cooperated positively to advance the political process and which is the obstacle," in reference to Syria's government.

De Mistura on Tuesday urged the still-fractured Syrian opposition to form a unified delegation ahead of a next round of peace talks tentatively scheduled to take place in Geneva next month.

"Will the opposition be able to be unified and realistic enough to realise they didn't win the war?" he said.

He added that Syria's government could not "simply announce victory" despite its recent advances, and that "the only answer is a political process".

The main opposition camp, the Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC), whose delegation Hariri heads, insists that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad must leave office as part of any peace deal.

That stance has put the HNC at odds with two other opposition groups, known as the Moscow and Cairo platforms.

De Mistura has in recent weeks upped the pressure on the groups to unite and said he believed they would be meeting again in Riyadh in the coming weeks, after talks there last month failed to produce a compromise.

But Hariri said the so-called Geneva track was "losing its credibility because of the way it is being manipulated by some international parties, particularly Russia."

Moscow is a close ally of Syria's government and has developed another negotiations track in the Kazakh capital Astana that the opposition sees as an attempt to hijack international peace talks.

HNC chief Riad Hijab also slammed De Mistura's comments, saying on Twitter that they reflected the "defeat of UN mediation."

"Time after time, De Mistura implicates himself with unstudied statements that reinforce our call for a new UN approach on Syria," he said.

More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began with anti-government protests in March 2011.

Successive rounds of peace talks have failed to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict.

Syria's army accused Israeli warplanes of hitting one of its positions Thursday, killing two people in an attack that a monitor said targeted a site where the regime allegedly produces chemical weapons.

The site near the Syrian town of Masyaf, between the central city of Hama and a port used by the Russian navy, is reportedly used by forces from Syria's allies Iran and the Lebanese Shiite militia Hezbollah.

Israel has previously carried out strikes believed to be targeting the transfer of weapons to Hezbollah, which fought a devastating war with the Jewish state in 2006.

Thursday's strike hit a training camp and a branch of the Scientific Studies and Research Center (SSRC), an institution that Washington has accused of helping develop the sarin gas used in a deadly attack on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun in April.

President Bashar al-Assad's government has blasted such accusations as "fabrications," and Syria's army on Thursday did not mention the SSRC in its statement on the Israeli strikes.

"Israeli warplanes at 2:42 am today fired a number of missiles from Lebanese air space, targeting one of our military positions near Masyaf, which led to material damage and the deaths of two members of the site," the statement said.

"Syria's army warns of the serious repercussions of such acts of aggression on the security and stability of the region," it added.

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also said the strikes hit the SSRC, though it could not confirm what weaponry is produced there.

"There are Iranian experts using the research centre there. Hezbollah also uses the facility," said Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman.

"The research centre was definitely damaged in the strikes. There is a huge fire emanating from a weapons warehouse where missiles were being stored," he added.

- 'Produces chemical weapons' -

Israel has long warned it would not allow the transfer of sophisticated weaponry to Hezbollah and has accused the group's sponsor Iran of building sites to produce "precision-guided missiles" in both Syria and Lebanon.

"Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month.

Israeli officials declined to comment on the raids on Thursday.

Former military intelligence head Amos Yadlin said the site "produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians".

He stopped short of saying Israel had carried out the raids, but said that if it did, the action would show "Israel intends to enforce its redlines despite the fact that the great powers are ignoring them".

And Israel's former national security advisor Yaakov Amidror described the facility as a key centre for the research and development of arms including chemical weapons.

"It is the first time that the target which was attacked is a formal Syrian facility, not just a warehouse but a centre of R&D and... responsible for producing the chemical weapons in the past and many other weapons systems," he told journalists.

"We will not allow Iran and Hezbollah to build the capabilities which allow them to attack Israel from Syria," he added.

"And we will not allow them to build the capabilities of Hezbollah under the chaotic umbrella of Syria."

He said there should be an "assumption" that Syria would respond militarily.

Earlier this week, Israel's military began a massive exercise simulating conflict with Hezbollah, the largest drill in nearly two decades.

Hezbollah is a key ally of Assad's regime, and its fighters battle alongside the Syrian army.

Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, who lives in hiding, made a rare visit to Damascus for talks last month.

Syria's government claims it no longer possesses chemical weapons after a 2013 agreement under which it pledged to surrender its chemical arsenal, following a chemical weapons attack outside the capital.

But in 2016, a UN-led investigative body said the Syrian government was behind at least three chemical attacks in northern Syria in the previous two years.

And on Wednesday, United Nations war crimes investigators announced they had an "extensive body of information" indicating Syrian warplanes were behind the deadly April 4 attack on Khan Sheikhun.

A fact-finding mission by the UN's chemical watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), concluded earlier this year that sarin gas was used in the attack but did not assign blame.

The attack killed at least 87 people and prompted the United States to launch a cruise missile strike on a Syrian military airport where it said the attack had originated.

Weeks later, the US sanctioned 271 Syrian chemists and other officials affiliated with the SSRC, which it said was behind the Syrian government's efforts to develop chemical weapons.

Red Cross exhumes Argentine remains in Falklands
Buenos Aires (AFP) Sept 6, 2017
Experts have completed the exhumation of scores of unidentified Argentine soldiers buried on the Falkland Islands who were killed fighting Britain over the territory, the Red Cross said Wednesday. The remains of 121 unknown soldiers were buried at Darwin military cemetery on the remote South Atlantic islands, known in Spanish as Malvinas, at the end of the 1982 war. Laurent Corbaz, head ... read more

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