OPCW members urged to rebuke Syria over chemical weapons use

France-led motion would strip Damascus of voting rights at global watchdog

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The 193 member states of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons are expected on Wednesday to vote on a French proposal – backed by 46 countries – that would strip Syria of its “rights and privileges” at the watchdog, including voting rights.

The global watchdog is being urged to impose on Damascus the strongest punishment at its disposal over the Assad regime's toxic gas attacks in the last decade.

France's ambassador Luis Vassy said it was irrefutable that Syria had used chemical weapons.

“We owe this to the Syrian people,” he told the OPCW on Tuesday. France’s proposal is supported by Australia, Canada, the UK and US.

An OPCW investigation last year found there were reasonable grounds to believe the Syrian military assaulted the village of Latamneh with sarin and chlorine gas attacks in 2017.

Syrian authorities then missed a 90-day deadline to declare the weapons that were used in the attacks and comply with OPCW inspections.

“We cannot let this tragedy go on for another decade," Mr Vassy said. "We find ourselves in an exceptional situation, which demands that we take action accordingly."

France has urged OPCW member states not to be duped by claims that Syria would be frozen out of the watchdog. Even if the motion passes, which would be the first time the OPCW’s strongest measures have been used, it would still mean Syria could speak at the watchdog even if it couldn’t vote.

OPCW director general Fernando Arias said Syria’s responses to enquiries about its chemical weapons still "cannot be considered accurate and complete" despite years of inspections.

Syria rejected the accusations and hit out at France’s “pompous” statement.

"We deny that we have ever used toxic gases," Syria's OPCW ambassador Rania Alrifaiy said.

"I call on you to vote no, to reject the hostile agenda against Syria," she said.

Close ally Russia also condemned the move by France and its supporters.

"This is very serious. We've never had this kind of a case before where a state party was deprived of their privileges and rights," its envoy Alexander Shulgin said.

Syria only joined the watchdog in 2013. It claimed it would give up its chemical weapons after a nerve-gas attack that killed 1,400 people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, widely believed to have been carried out by Syrian forces.