Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday blamed Russia for a recent suspected chemical attack by the Syrian government, saying that Moscow was enabling the Syrian regime’s continued use of prohibited weapons.
Rescue workers in the rebel-controlled area of eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus, accused Syrian government forces of deploying chlorine gas during a bombing of the area on Monday.
Speaking at a conference in Paris, Tillerson said Russia is also to blame for the use of chemical weapons, because it is not doing enough to restrain its client, the Syrian regime.
“Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in eastern Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria,” Tillerson said, according to Reuters. He went on to urge the international community to deny “impunity to those who use or enable the use” of chemical weapons.
Monday’s suspected chemical attack came amid the regime’s intensifying bombing campaign in Ghouta, the last major rebel-held zone near Damascus. If reports from first responders are correct, it would not be the first time international observers have determined the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against civilians.
In a joint report issued in October, the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) concluded the Syrian forces used the nerve agent sarin in an April 2017 attack, in addition to several other instances of chlorine gas use. President Donald Trump ordered an air strike on a Syrian military installation in response to the sarin attack, which killed more than 100 people.
Russia is a staunch supporter of the Assad regime and has provided the Syrian government with direct military support against both rebel groups and ISIS militants throughout most of the country’s civil war. Tillerson said Tuesday that Moscow is violating an agreement it made with Washington to remove chemical weapons from Syria and is shielding Assad from the consequences of using the internationally prohibited weapons.
“Russia’s failure to resolve the chemical weapons issue in Syria calls into question its relevance to the resolution of the overall crisis,” he said, referring to ongoing peace talks meant to wind down the seven-year conflict.
Tillerson was speaking at a Paris meeting of 29 countries that have agreed to coordinate sanctions against individuals and governments that use chemical weapons. On Tuesday, one of those countries, France, imposed unilateral sanctions on 25 people and companies, saying they were helping to supply the Assad’s chemical weapons program.
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