Britain and France seeking to punish Syrian regime for 'use of chemical weapons'

UN ambassadors from Britain and France have said they will seek to punish members of the Syrian regime implicated in the use of chemical weapons during the country's civil war.

However, Russia's envoy said his country would not support any such action.

Ambassadors Matthew Rycroft of Britain and Francois Delattre of France said they are drafting a Security Council resolution aimed at ensuring regime members involved in the use of chemical weapons in Syria will face consequences, and that they hope to have it voted on in the coming days.

Mr Delattre said the credibility of the Security Council was on the line after inspectors determined the Syrian regime had used the banned weapons on at least three occasions and that the Islamic State group (IS) had used them at least once.

"If the Security Council is not able to react strongly and unanimously when, not only the proliferation, but the use of weapons of mass destruction is at stake against civilian populations then, frankly, there is a big question mark about the credibility of the UN," Mr Delattre said.

While Russia supports sanctions against IS and other extremists, it has repeatedly rejected sanctions for the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad, its close ally.

Russia's ambassador Vitaly Churkin said that inspectors - known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM - had failed to turn up "enough information to accuse anybody of anything", aside from the single allegation against IS.

"We believe first of all that JIM has been working very hard in a very professional way but they've been given a task and put in a situation that won't allow them to produce credible evidence," Mr Churkin said.

Earlier this month, the Security Council approved a one-year extension to the JIM's mandate but Mr Churkin said that Russia supported that measure for the inspectors' deterrent effect and because they were able to expand the mandate to look more closely at terrorists' use of chemical weapons.

On the subject of eastern Aleppo where some 275,000 people are under siege, Mr Churkin said Syrian and Russian forces had retaken the vital Castello road so it can now be "freely used for humanitarian supplies".

Commenting on a proposed Security Council resolution calling for a 10-day pause to allow humanitarian aid into the besieged city, he said he believed it had been overtaken by events.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Russian Ministry of Defence said that "half" of eastern Aleppo had been "liberated".

Opposition groups reported that renewed airstrikes killed at least 10 civilians in the opposition held-enclave as they were fleeing Syrian government advances.

AP

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