The latest OPCW report on the April Idlib chemical incident lacks sufficient evidence and is based on data provided mostly by only one side of the Syrian conflict without necessary verification, the Russian OPCW representative, Aleksandr Shulgin, told RT.
“The conclusions of this report are based on questionable data provided primarily by all kinds of the Syrian armed opposition groups and NGOs, including the infamous White Helmets,” Shulgin said, referring to the report of the fact-finding mission (FFM) reviewed by the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), on Thursday.
The Russian representative drew attention to the fact that the report itself repeatedly says that the FFM investigative team decided not to visit the incident scene due to “security factors” and was thus unable to gather the necessary material evidence directly on the spot.
The team then had to rely on evidence provided by “various NGOs” that were working on the scene and testimonies of the alleged attack victims as well as those of the medical specialists, who treated the victims in “one of the neighboring countries.”
The report further says that the team was unable to implement the chain of custody for the samples they obtained from third parties, despite the fact that it is a standard basic procedure for such types of investigation, Shulgin noted.
The FFM report seen by RT indeed says that “the team was unable to implement a complete chain of custody, by the team, for samples from source.” Shulgin explained that the lack of the full chain of custody makes such evidence questionable, as its source cannot be verified with certainty.
He went on to say that the conclusions presented by the team are in fact really vague, as the investigators were in particular unable to determine the kind of weapon that was used in the Idlib attack, and failed to establish the location of the impact.
“The report leaves many important questions unanswered,” Shulgin said, adding that the exact number of casualties in the alleged attack remains unknown.
He said, however, that the report allows the OPCW to “justifiably say that something like [sarin]” was used in the Idlib village of Khan Sheikhoun, “but the question of responsibility still remains.”
The Russian representative also said that the report does not draw any conclusions about who was behind the attack, but this fact did not stop Western countries from blaming Damascus for the incident once again, after the report was reviewed by the OPCW.
“This is just yet another example” of a policy “aimed at toppling the Syrian government and demonizing President [Bashar] Assad,” Shulgin said, adding that the West did not actually need the results of the investigation, as they “were certain of the involvement of the Syrian government” in the alleged attack from the very beginning.
The US used the FFM report to once again slam Damascus for the alleged chemical attack. Following its review by the OPCW, the US State Department issued a statement, in which it said that the facts presented in the report “reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov criticized the OPCW for refusing to visit the alleged site of the attack, by saying that it is “acting unintelligibly.” He also drew attention to the fact that the FFM report provides no information on where the sarin gas that was allegedly used in the attack came from.
An estimated 74 to 100 or more civilians were killed and hundreds were injured in the April 4 attack, according to various reports. Washington then rushed to blame Damascus based on open-source intelligence, while the Syrian government strongly denied responsibility for the incident.
On April 7, US President Donald Trump authorized the firing of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, from where US intelligence said the chemical attack was launched.