The case of the situation in Syria

On 26 April, Russia held a so-called “information meeting” at OPCW headquarters in The Hague, during which they produced Syrian “witnesses”.

France and 16 other OPCW Member States condemned this propaganda exercise in a joint statement.

As the Permanent Representative of France to the OPCW, Mr Philippe Lalliot said, this meeting was nothing more than an obscene masquerade: “This does not come as a surprise from the Syrian government, which has massacred and gassed its own people for the last seven years. It must be answerable for its actions. We will make sure of it. Russia’s actions are more surprising, and they will not fool anybody with such crude tactics.”

France and its partners reiterate their full support for the OPCW-led investigation, despite all propaganda and obstruction attempts.

Statement by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs – 20 April 2018

Syrie

"At this time, OPCW investigators still have not had access to the site of the chemical weapons attack in Douma. If Russia and Syria finally keep their commitments, it will have taken them at least two weeks to do so. The OPCW team’s mission is to establish whether a chemical attack actually did take place and the type of chemical agent used. This obstructionism is obviously undermining the caliber of the investigation. It is most likely aimed at removing evidence and other material elements linked to the chemical attack on the very site where it took place. Full, immediate, and unhindered access must therefore be granted to the OPCW team, as we have always demanded.

Over the past several days, Russia has been issuing contradictory official statements on the chemical attack in Douma. One day, it didn’t take place; the next day, it was carried out by armed groups; the day after that, it was Western manipulation. There’s no concern for consistency or truth, because it’s all about sowing doubt and confusion. Russia is now spreading videos featuring children, while the attacks took the lives of more than 45 people and left a large number of others injured…."
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Statement by the spokesperson of Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs – 17 April 2018

Syrie - Chemical Weapons

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has deployed a team of investigators to Syria – the Fact-Finding Mission – following the attack in Douma in eastern Ghouta on April 7 which killed several dozen people.

The team is tasked with establishing if a chemical attack did take place and the nature of the chemical agent used. It uses highly technical and rigorous scientific methods which we have welcomed on many occasions. The mission is not tasked with identifying the perpetrators of this attack; only the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism was able to do that, but its mandate has not been renewed due to Russia’s opposition at the UN Security Council.

To date, Russia and Syria are still refusing to allow the investigators access to the site of the attack, even though the investigators arrived in Syria on April 14. It is very likely that the evidence and key elements will disappear from the site, which, furthermore, is entirely controlled by the Russian and Syrian armies.

Syria must finally provide complete, immediate and unrestricted access in response to all OPCW requests, whether with respect to the sites to be visited, persons to be interviewed or documents to be consulted.
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Extract from the statement by H.E. Philippe Lalliot, French Ambassador to the Kingdom of the Netherlands, Permanent Representative of France to the OPCW – 16 April 2018

“The facts are before us and will not go away. They are resistant to the grossest of lies and the most absurd denials: the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW has proved over and over again that chemical weapons were used in Syria and al so that Syria has failed to declare the whole capacity of its chemical military programme.

The findings of the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism, the JIM, have clearly established the responsibility of the Syrian Government and armed forces inter alia for the use of chemical weapons. So let us be clear: if Syria has continued to use toxic substances for military purposes, then it has retained its capacity to produce and use them, in contravention of its international commitments, and despite the guarantees offered by the Russian Federation in the framework of the Russo-American accord of 2013. As we all know now, Syria has been conducting a clandestine chemical programme since 2013. Our priority must now be to provide the Technical Secretariat with the means to complete the dismantling of the Syrian programme and to guarantee to the States Parties that the 2013 commitments will be respected.

At this point, I should like to issue a solemn warning against any attempt at manipulation, exploitation and disinformation: having told us yesterday that this attack had been carried out by the opposition, the Russian Federation inter alia tells us one day that there has been no attack at all, the next that it was carried out by armed groups, and, the day after that, that it had been orchestrated by the West. There is no thought of coherence in this, the only objective being to sow doubt and confusion, without seeking the truth.

We had already heard similar nonsense in connection with the Ghouta attack, in August 2013, and later in connection with Khan Shaykhun, although it was scientifically proven that Syrian forces had indeed perpetrated a sarin attack there.

These manoeuvres are so crude that they would be laughable if they did not relate to a population that has been ravaged, terrorised, and victimised for seven years. These lies are, in fact, obscene. France will continue here, elsewhere, everywhere, to oppose their propagation by recalling the facts and by revealing the deep-lying mechanisms at work.”
Read the full statement (in French)

Address by Prime Minister Édouard Philippe to the French National Assembly – 16 April 2018

“On 7 April, this red line was crossed.

The intelligence gathered by France and its allies confirms the reality of this chemical attack, which the World Health Organization has also just confirmed. Collected by our services and our allies and analysed by our medical teams, this intelligence also lays bare the number of victims. It points to the Syrian armed forces’ responsibility in this operation.

Unfortunately, the tactic launched on Douma is one that has already been tested before. It was conducted along similar lines to the attack in Aleppo, and the aim of the operational strategy is clear: sow terror among civilian populations and hasten the end of the conflict by dislodging the armed groups by any means. In other words, this is a deliberate and repeated terror strategy.

This is not the first time the regime has used chemical weapons. In 2013 and 2017, France declassified intelligence documents showing the responsibility of Damascus in several confirmed chemical attacks. Following the Khan Shaykhun attack on 4 April 2017, we published a national assessment which concludes that the regime was responsible. The international bodies, under the auspices of the United Nations and Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), have confirmed our findings on several occasions. In a report released on 6 September 2017, the UN Commission of Inquiry also held Syrian government forces accountable for the attacks on Khan Shaykhun.”
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Address by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, to the French Senate – 16 April 2018

“During the night of 7-8 April, France gathered numerous accounts, the authenticity of which is unquestionable. Medical NGOs found traces of chemical agents on the victims. Numerous photographs and videos corroborating the events were authenticated by our experts. The symptoms of more than 500 patients treated on Saturday at healthcare facilities were unmistakeably consistent with those of a gas attack. The WHO itself observed the same thing. All our laboratories have confirmed that it was a chemical attack.

As for responsibility, we have confirmation that Syrian officers coordinated these attacks with the aim of gaining control of the sector more quickly.

Every time, the regime has acted in the same way, blatantly manipulating the facts. Remember Aleppo. They retorted that there had been no chemical attacks, and then did everything they could to hider the investigation; we were told that in collusion with Western intelligence services, the residents of Douma had sacrificed themselves, gassing themselves so that the regime would then be blamed! What a plot! By trying to manipulate everyone, they ended up manipulating themselves! The sole purpose of this was to instil doubt, to divide us.”
Read the full speech (in French)

Interview with Nathalie Loiseau, Minister Delegate for European Affairs, on TV5 Monde – 15 April 2018

Q - Thank you for agreeing to this interview. As we have just heard, the Syrian regime is responsible for the confirmed chemical attack. At the same time, the French Defence Ministry has published an assessment report on its website, along with photos of the victims so that there can be no doubt - a report based on analysis of witness statements, videos, photos and declassified French intelligence. And yet political figures in France are asking for proof to be published. So how do you react to those casting doubt on the reality of this chemical attack and its source?
A - As Jean-Yves Le Drian said, there can be no doubt as to the reality of the attack, nor the responsibility of the Syrian regime. The statements from medical NGOs on the ground, and the symptoms observed in the victims show that chlorine and powerful neurotoxins were used. In whose interests is it to use chemical weapons in Syria? The Syrian regime has already used chemical weapons on several occasions in the past. The Syrian regime was conducting an offensive in Douma, during which the chemical weapons were used. They were dropped by helicopters, and nobody but the Syrian armed forces has helicopters. So there is absolutely no doubt…

Q - But we don’t yet have the analysis of the chemical products which may have been used, which is what the defence assessment report states!
A - What we do know are the symptoms, the choking, the convulsions, and so on…

Q - Those are statements…
A - They’re statements, they’re images which have been very carefully analyzed, so there is no reason to think that there has been manipulation. All that has been examined extremely thoroughly. It is because we have every reason to believe that this was a chemical attack that was perpetrated by the Damascus regime that we have decided to learn lessons from it.

Q - Madam Minister, since these strikes, particularly on social networks, there have been many conspiracy theories, a real propaganda war. Do you think that everything has been done to avoid these multiple contradictory theories and doubts raised as to the veracity of these chemical attacks, given that the investigators sent there have yet to return and that the French Foreign Ministry has described estimates with a high degree of confidence, has everything possible been done to avoid this proliferation of propaganda?
A - Let us not forget: we submitted a draft resolution to the Security Council asking to send an inspection and control mechanism to Syria immediately after the attack of 7 April, both to prove what had happened and identify the perpetrators. Who prevented this draft resolution from being adopted? Russia, by using its veto. This is the twelfth time it has vetoed a draft resolution regarding Syria, and the sixth time regarding chemical weapons. You are correct that a sort of propaganda campaign has been launched on social networks, which I saw as soon as I spoke at the National Assembly last Tuesday about the issues of chemical weapons and the responsibility of the Syrian regime, and to call on Syria’s ally, Russia, to shoulder its responsibilities. I had barely finished speaking when in a highly organized and concerted manner, there was talk of manipulation, provocation and uncertainty. It is a propaganda war, so we must not start believing this propaganda. Today, we have every reason to believe that chemical weapons were used.

Q - Are we certain?
A - We are certain, we do not strike facilities which themselves have been used to produce and use chemical weapons unless we are certain that these chemical weapons have indeed been used. We must remember that they were used a year ago at Khan Shaykhun, and the mechanism which investigated the use of chemical weapons and their origins concluded that they had indeed been used and that the Syrian regime was behind those strikes. What happened after that investigation? That was when Russia began using its veto, thus preventing further independent investigation mechanisms in Syria.
Read the full interview (in French)

Interview with Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs on BFM TV – 14 April 2018

Q - As you know, Minister, there are many questions, but the big one is what proof do we have? The President of the French Republic said that “we have proof that the regime was involved”, and you yourself said “it is a confirmed, identifiable attack”. Are you convinced that the regime used chemical weapons in the attack in Douma on 7 April, do you personally have proof of that, will you make it public?
A - This morning, we published a document on the French Foreign Ministry’s website in which everyone can see the information we have. The reality is that at a certain time, despite the use of chemicals, despite the chemical attack on the 7th, the attack last Saturday week, some commentators denied the fact that a chemical attack had occurred. And yet we had messages, witness accounts, photos and videos from numerous actors on the ground showing, after analysis, that it was indeed a chemical attack, that gas was indeed used. We submitted all these photos to our departments and laboratories. There is no doubt that a chemical attack indeed took place. And on top of that, over the course of several years, because sadly this conflict has been raging since 2011, we have received many witness accounts and messages as well as damning testimony from medical non-governmental organizations working in hospitals and caring for people. Not to mention reliable intelligence demonstrating that the Syrian armed forces were running the operation. It was in some respects in line with the action taken by the Syrian armed forces against a section of the rebels in Ghouta who were refusing to surrender, so they cynically and barbarically used chemical weapons to force the surrender of the final resistance fighters.

Q - Do you have proof that Syrian officers indeed coordinated this chemical attack?
A - We have extensive intelligence on the issue.

Q - So the orders came from the highest echelons in the Syrian army?
A - Everything points to that.

Q - And perhaps even from the Syrian President, Bashar al-Assad?
A - We do not yet know that.

Q - I’d like to get back to the question of proof for a moment, you have chemical samples which have been analyzed and have shown that which gas was used? Was it chlorine, was it a toxic substance?
A - Not all samples have been analyzed at this time, but all I can say today is that our analysis will enable us to identify all the gases used. Chlorine was used, we are certain of that, and no doubt other substances too because the tests conducted by our labs show that the symptoms identified can also be caused by gases other than chlorine.

Q - Are these samples being tested by your department at this very moment?
A - They are being tested, yes.

Q - And you know that an inspection mission is due to leave for Syria today, inspectors from the organization responsible for checking whether chemical weapons have been used or not, the OPCW. Is this mission, which was due to begin today, still relevant, do you support it?
A - With regard to the verifications, we have to say that they are very late in the day, because there was a mechanism in place previously, one which had been agreed between the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the OPCW. This body, this verification mechanism was responsible for identifying those responsible for the chemical attack, if it could be confirmed. And it was successful because in the operations last April, in which chemical weapons were used and which led to US intervention, this body concluded that the regime was responsible for the attacks. And it was working so well, the inspectors were doing such a good job that Russia objected to these missions continuing. In fact three days after the chemical attack, so on Tuesday, we proposed to the Security Council that this mechanism be renewed, so that we could verify on the ground who had done what. And Russia once against blocked this move by vetoing the operation. So this mission is taking place very belatedly, it must do its work, but if we really wanted the truth, the tools which had been coordinated and agreed between the United Nations and the OPCW should have been left in place, and Russia has always opposed this.
Read the full interview in French

Declaration to the Press by Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, on the situation in Syria - 14 April 2018

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National Assessment document on Chemical attack of 7 April 2018 (Douma, Eastern Ghouta, Syria) and Syria’s clandestine chemical weapons programme - 14 April 2018

[Download the report]

Interview with Jean-Yves Le Drian, Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, on TF1 – 14 April 2018

Q - Jean-Yves Le Drian, thank you for being here this evening. The Russians and Syrians are denying all involvement in last weekend’s gas attack on civilians; based on what proof, what convictions, what concrete evidence, did you decide to launch strikes last night?
A - If I may, just before I answer your question, I would like to commend the French armed forces for their exemplary composure, courage and professionalism in what was an extremely difficult mission.

To answer your question, chemical attacks were observed last Saturday, a week ago; we obtained a huge amount of information from photos, videos, witnesses on the ground and social networks, which was widely available following the chemical attacks. Based on analysis conducted by the French services and on information we obtained from trusted laboratories and medical NGOs which have been working in this part of Syria for several years, we were able to confirm that chlorine gas was indeed used, and no doubt other gases, leading to 45 deaths and hundreds of injured. And it was in the attack carried out by the Syrian armed forces against Ghouta that these chemical attacks occurred, at a time when there was resistance which Bashar al-Assad wanted to crush more quickly by using methods which he had already used in the past - because he regularly uses chemical weapons: remember Aleppo, remember 2013, since we mentioned it earlier, and remember the events of 2017 - so he had already used these weapons on several occasions. Bashar al-Assad’s government, the Syrian armed forces, have used chemical weapons; it has become commonplace for them. We had to put a stop to it.

From the start of his term in May 2017, President Macron set out the red lines which could not be crossed, and if they were, France would intervene; he even stated this at Versailles in front of President Putin. And President Putin agreed with this policy. And so since the red line was crossed, France intervened, showing that when France makes commitments, it honours them, it keeps to them.

Q - Do you have proof that the Syrian chemical arsenal has now been destroyed, as the Pentagon has claimed?
A - This is a major operation which was only focused on targets linked to the Syrian chemical arsenal and not the Syrian army or its allies; Syria’s entire chemical stockpile must be dismantled, which should have been done since August 2013. The operations have been gruelling: storage sites, assembly sites and laboratories have been dismantled. Now we must check that there are no other sites and with the help of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is in place and doing its job, which has experts who will today go to carry out verifications, we must ensure that Bashar al-Assad has no more opportunities to use chemical weapons.

Q - Since last Sunday, you have said that you are convinced that Bashar al-Assad is guilty of war crimes; was last night’s warning enough? Will he not ultimately have won if France takes no further action?
A - I hope it was enough. We all hope so because chemical weapons are despicable weapons to use; mankind has been banned from using them since the end of World War I - there have been numerous treaties signed by practically the entire international community and which Bashar has regularly violated and flouted - I hope that his allies can make him realize that enough is enough and that these weapons must never be used again if, even for a while longer, he wants to remain head of a government which has met with fierce opposition.
Read the full interview (in French)

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