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Probe Of Syrian Gas Attacks Extended Amid Battle With Russia Over Sanctions

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, has dismissed as "unconvincing" UN investigators' documentation of chemical attacks by Syria.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the United Nations, has dismissed as "unconvincing" UN investigators' documentation of chemical attacks by Syria.

The UN Security Council has extended the mandate of a panel investigating chemical attacks in Syria for two weeks to allow time to negotiate a one-year renewal of the probe.

The council on October 31 unanimously backed a U.S. resolution extending the probe through November 18 to make time for what appears likely to be a major showdown over the panel's recent finding that the Syrian regime carried out three chemical attacks on villages in 2014 and 2015.

Russia has dismissed those findings as "unconvincing" and said no sanctions should be imposed on Syria for the chlorine gas attacks.

But Britain, France, and the United States are pushing for sanctions and maintain that UN resolutions clearly provide for such action in response to the use of chemical weapons.

Britain's UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said the council needs to "make sure that everyone involved in the heinous use of chemical weapons in Syria is denied impunity and will receive justice."

France's UN Ambassador Francois Delattre said the two-week extension was only a first step.

"As we all know, there are more cases of chemical weapons use in Syria. And so it is absolutely critical" to pass the one-year renewal, he said.

The Security Council set up the so-called joint investigative mechanism in August 2015 to determine who was behind the chlorine attacks using barrel bombs.

The use of chlorine as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013 under pressure from Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

While Russia agreed to the original focus on Syria, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said on October 31 that investigators should be authorized to probe "chemical terrorism" by all armed groups and their mission should be extended to neighboring Iraq.

The panel already has concluded that the Islamic State (IS) extremist group used mustard gas as a weapon in Syria in August 2015. IS also holds territory in Iraq, where there are reports it used gas against Kurdish troops.

But Deputy U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison rejected any broadening of the panel's mandate, saying that would be a "significant distraction" from its mission.

The investigation "was set up in Syria for a specific reason -- to resolve who was involved -- and for that reason it should remain focused on Syria," Sison said.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and TASS
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