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The Latest: UN seeks way to address chemical arms in Syria

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The Latest: UN seeks way to address chemical arms in Syria

The Associated Press
This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows relatives after they reunited following the release people by the Army of Islam group that had been holding them since 2013, in Damascus, Syria, early Monday, April 9, 2018. Syrian state media is reporting that dozens of civilians who had been held for years by a rebel group near the capital Damascus have been freed. (SANA via AP)

The latest on the Syrian conflict (all times local):

3:05 a.m.

The U.N. Security Council president says experts are working on a resolution on the continuing use of chemical weapons in Syria.

Peruvian Ambassador Gustavo Mesa-Cuadra told reporters late Monday that council members are also consulting on an impartial investigation of the suspected poison gas attack in the rebel-held town of Douma near Damascus.

The U.S. earlier Monday circulated a draft resolution that would condemn chemical weapons use and establish a new body to determine responsibility for chemical attacks.

Russia vetoed a Western-backed resolution in November that would have extended the mandate for experts who had been assessing blame and circulated its own proposal in January that Western nations have called unacceptable.

Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia says the new U.S. draft "contains some unacceptable elements which may make it even worse." He says he may call for a vote on the Russian text.

———

2:20 a.m.

Russia's U.N. ambassador is urging inspectors from the international chemical weapons watchdog to fly to Syria's capital Tuesday to visit the site of a suspected poison gas attack in a nearby rebel-held town.

Vassily Nebenzia says experts from Russia's military radiological, biological and chemical unit went to the site of Sunday's purported attack in Douma and found no chemical substances on the ground, no dead, and no poisoned people in hospitals.

Nebenzia told an emergency Monday meeting of the U.N. Security Council that Russia and Syria will allow investigators from the Organization for the Protection of Chemical Weapons to go to Douma immediately. He called reports of the attack "fake news."

Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari echoed the invitation. He insists Syria has no chemical weapons and denies any attack happened.

———

1:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump says he'll "forcefully" respond to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria.

Trump made the remark in the Cabinet Room of the White House during a meeting Monday evening with his top military leaders, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph Dunford.

Officials are trying to determine whether Syrian President Bashar Assad's government was behind Saturday's suspected chemical weapons attack on rebel-held Douma, east of Damascus.

Trump says the attack "will be met and it will be met forcefully."

Trump said earlier that he would soon make a decision on how to respond, and against whom.

———

1:10 a.m.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations says "the United States is determined to see that the monster who dropped chemical weapons on the Syrian people held to account."

Nikki Haley told an emergency Monday meeting of the Security Council on a suspected poison gas attack in a rebel-held town near the Syrian capital that President Donald Trump is weighing "important decisions."

She says: "We are on the edge of a dangerous precipice."

Haley didn't identify the "monster" but her sharp words appeared aimed at Syrian President Bashar Assad.

She says the Security Council must either discharge its duty "or demonstrate its utter and complete failure to protect the people of Syria. Either way, the United States will respond."

Haley also accuses Russia and Iran of "enabling the Assad regime's murderous destruction."

———

12:25 a.m.

Russia's U.N. ambassador is accusing the United States of deliberately stoking international tensions and "unpardonably" threatening Russia.

Vassily Nebenzia told an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council on a suspected poison gas attack in a rebel-held town near Syria's capital that Britain, France and others have "blindly" followed the U.S. He says they use "slander, insults, hawkish rhetoric, blackmail, sanctions and threats to use force against a sovereign state."

Nebenzia said the U.S. doesn't understand what it's doing now and warns that Washington is moving the world toward a "dangerous threshold."

He reiterated Russia's contention that there was no chemical attack Sunday on Douma and said a fact-finding mission from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons should go to Damascus.

———

11:45 p.m.

The U.N. special envoy for Syria is warning that recent grave events have escalated global tensions, drawing national, regional and international actors "into dangerous situations of potential or actual confrontation."

Staffan de Mistura told an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on a suspected poison gas attack in a rebel-held town near Syria's capital that for the first time in his four years of briefing members he was expressing concern about international peace and security.

He said recent developments "carry more than ever before the dangers" that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned about recently — different Mideast fault lines crossing each other and interconnecting, and conflicting interests of both global and regional powers.

De Mistura echoed Guterres' concern that these escalating tensions "can have absolutely devastating consequences that is difficult for us to even imagine."

"The council cannot allow a situation of uncontrollable escalation to develop in Syria on any front," he said. "Instead we must find unity and address the international peace and security."

———

10:15 p.m.

The Russian military says over 3,000 rebels and their relatives have left the town of Douma outside the Syrian capital.

Maj. Gen. Yuri Yevtushenko said Monday the rebels and their families are being driven to the northern province of Aleppo. Yevtushenko said 3,005 rebels and their relatives have left Douma since Sunday evening.

Yevtushenko said Russian officers inspected Douma to check activists' claims of a chemical weapons attack and found no trace of the use of chemical agents in the area. He said Russian officers and doctors also inspected Douma's hospital and found no patients with chemical poisoning symptoms there.

Yevtushenko charged that "all that proves that no chemical weapons were used in Douma," and dismissed local first responders' claims as fabrications.

Opposition activists and first responders say more than 40 people were killed in a suspected chemical attack late Saturday blamed on government forces.

Russia is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

———

9:30 p.m.

The Russian military says it has surveyed the Syrian town of Douma and found no trace of chemical weapons use there.

Opposition activists say 40 people died in Saturday night's chemical attack in the rebel-held town and blamed Syrian government forces. Images of wounded children have caused international outrage, with U.S. President Donald Trump warning that there would be "a big price to pay."

The Russian military's Reconciliation Center in Syria has been sending officers into Douma to negotiate with the rebels there. It says experts inspected the areas in Douma where chemical agents were allegedly used and found no trace of them. They also inspected Douma's hospital and found no patients with chemical poisoning symptoms.

The Russian military denounced the White Helmets, opposition-linked first responders who reported the attack and the death toll. It called them "shameless rebel accomplices," saying they made false allegations to derail a local truce.

Russia is a key ally of President Bashar Assad and has been waging an air campaign in support of his forces since 2015.

———

9:15 p.m.

The U.N. human rights chief is warning of the dangers of a "collective shrug" and "impotent" international response to the possible use of chemical weapons in Syria over the weekend.

Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein says the world and veto-wielding Security Council powers need to "wake up fast to the irreparable damage" being done to international efforts to ban use of weapons of mass destruction.

His office in Geneva says it has a lack of information about the purported chemical weapons attack in rebel-held Douma, northeast of Damascus, on Saturday. But it pointed to nearly three dozen chemical attacks in Syria since the country ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention 4-1/2 years ago.

A total of 192 states have ratified the agreement that prohibits the use of chemical weapons, making it one of the most universally accepted conventions.

Zeid faulted "ineffectual, or deliberately obstructive, global leadership" on chemical weapons, and said some "very powerful states" involved in Syria's conflict have failed to halt "this ominous regression towards a chemical weapons free-for-all."

———

7:30 p.m.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons says it has opened an investigation over the weekend's suspected poison gas attack in Syria.

The organization's director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, has expressed "grave concern in response to the alleged chemical weapons attack" over the weekend in the town of Douma, near the capital, Damascus.

A statement by the agency said the OPCW has been closely monitoring the incident and made a preliminary analysis of the reports of the alleged use of chemical weapons immediately after they were issued.

Monday's statement said a fact-finding mission is in the process of gathering further information from all available sources to establish whether chemical weapons were used.

The OPCW is the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention, which was signed by 192 states. Syria signed on to the convention in 2013.

———

7:15 p.m.

The United States is urging the U.N. Security Council to adopt a new resolution that would condemn the continuing use of chemical weapons in Syria "in the strongest terms" and establish a new body to determine responsibility for chemical attacks.

The draft resolution, obtained Monday by The Associated Press, singles out Saturday's attack on Douma in the Damascus suburbs, and expresses "outrage that individuals continue to be killed and injured by chemical weapons" in Syria and "determination that those responsible must be held accountable."

It was circulated ahead of an emergency Security Council meeting Monday on the Douma attack.

The U.S. and Russia have been lashing out at each other for months over the issue of accountability for chemical attacks in Syria, a close ally of Moscow.

Russia vetoed a Western-backed resolution in November that would have extended the mandate of the joint U.N.-Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons body that had blamed the Syrian government and the Islamic State extremist group for using chemical weapons.

The new proposed U.N. resolution includes rival Russian and Western proposals for a new body to assess blame.

Western nations objected to Russia's demand for the Security Council to have effective veto power over the findings of a new body.

The new U.S. draft says the council "will thoroughly assess how to take action" on its conclusions, and reaffirms the council's previous decision to take action against violators under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which includes sanctions and can be enforced militarily.

———

7 p.m.

A Syrian opposition activist based in the town of Douma says most of those killed in the poison gas attack over the weekend have been buried.

Haitham Bakkar said Monday that the attack was focused on three neighborhoods in the town as well as a front line with the nearby village of Rihan, where several opposition fighters were killed.

He said the chemical agent was delivered in a barrel dropped from a helicopter and a missile fired by a warplane.

Opposition activists and rescuers say at least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters.

The Syrian government and its ally Russia have dismissed the reports as fabrications.

———

6:40 p.m.

Iran has condemned an airstrike on a Syrian air base that killed four Iranians, including a Revolutionary Guard colonel.

The Syrian government blamed Monday's pre-dawn strike on Israel, which does not typically comment on its operations in Syria. A war monitoring group said the strike killed a total of 14 people.

State-run TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi as saying the attack was a "violation of national sovereignty and the territorial integrity of this country, and contrary to all international rules and regulations."

The official IRAN daily said Col. Mehdi Dehghan, a member of the Guard's aerospace force, was killed in the attack. The semi-official Fars news agency previously reported that three other Iranians were among those killed, without giving their ranks.

Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent troops to bolster his forces. Iran insists its soldiers are only in Syria in an advisory role, but hundreds have been killed since the civil war began in 2011.

———

6:15 p.m.

Syria says Israel was only able to carry out an airstrike on a central Syrian air base because of the "unlimited support of the American administration."

Syria has blamed Israel for a missile attack on a central air base early Monday that reportedly killed 14 people, including three Iranians. Israel typically does not comment on its operations in Syria, where it has carried out more than 100 strikes since 2012, mainly targeting weapons convoys.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a letter sent to the United Nations on Monday that Israel is "practicing state terrorism and threatens security and peace in the region and the world."

The ministry said Syria will not hesitate to "practice its right to defend its land, people and sovereignty by all means that are in accordance with the U.N. charter."

It said the airstrike on the T4 air base was conducted by Israeli warplanes flying over the airspace of neighboring Lebanon. The ministry said the attack left a number of Syrian citizens dead or wounded.

———

5:30 p.m.

The Kremlin says President Vladimir Putin called for caution in response to a reported poison gas attack in Syria during a phone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Opposition activists said 40 people died in the chemical attack late Saturday in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and blamed it on the Syrian government, which is closely allied with Russia.

The Kremlin, in a read-out of Monday's phone call, said the two leaders discussed the reported attack. It said Putin warned against "provocations and speculations" on the subject.

Putin's spokesman earlier said it would be irresponsible to draw any conclusions before an investigation is held.

———

5 p.m.

British Prime Minister Theresa May says Syrian President Bashar Assad's government and its backers, including Russia, "must be held to account" if it is found to have been responsible for the suspected poison gas attack near Damascus.

May says "yes, this is about the actions, the brutal actions by Assad and his regime, but it also is about the backers of the regime, and of course Russia is one of those backers … and they need to look very carefully at the position they have taken."

She called Saturday's suspected assault on the besieged town of Douma a "reprehensible attack," adding that Britain was in talks with its allies about "what action is necessary."

May spoke Monday during a visit to her Danish counterpart, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, in Copenhagen.

———

4:30 p.m.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency says three Iranians were among those killed in a missile attack on a Syrian air base.

Russia and the Syrian military blamed Monday's pre-dawn strike, which reportedly killed 14 people, on Israel.

The Fars report on Monday identified the three Iranians as Amar Mousavi, from southwestern city of Ahvaz, and Mehdi Lotfi and Akbar Jannati, both from the northwestern city of Tabriz. It did not provide their ranks or further information.

Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar Assad and has sent troops to bolster his forces. Iran insists its soldiers are only in Syria in an advisory role, but hundreds have been killed since the civil war began in 2011.

———

2:15 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed his concerns to Russia's Vladimir Putin over a suspected poison gas attack in Syria.

Officials from the Turkish president's office say the two leaders spoke by phone on Monday during which Erdogan also emphasized the "importance of working together to prevent civilian deaths and supply humanitarian aid."

Syrian opposition activists and local rescuers said on Sunday that the suspected attack from the previous day against the last remaining foothold of the rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus killed at least 40 people.

The officials from Erdogan's office provided the information on condition of anonymity under regulations.

—Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey;

———

2:10 p.m.

Germany says the Syrian government must be held accountable for the deadly chemical attacks against its own population.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert says images of the aftermath of Saturday's attack in Douma "should move all of us."

Seibert told reporters on Monday that "the regime's actions are despicable, they're inhumane and they break basic rules of international humanitarian law, and this must not go unpunished."

He noted that the attack happened a year after a chemical attack in the northern town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people and "in this use of poison gas the circumstances indicate the Assad regime was responsible too."

Seibert added that as one of Syria's main supporters, Russia should stop using its Security Council veto to block investigations of the use of chemical weapons attacks.

———

2 p.m.

The Kremlin says it wasn't informed ahead of time of any upcoming airstrike on a Syrian air base earlier today.

Syria's state media reported the airstrike earlier on Monday, and activists said it killed at least 14 people. The Russian military later said that the Israeli Air Force was behind it. Israel has not confirmed these reports.

Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for President Vladimir Putin, told reporters on Monday that Israel had not spoken to the president ahead of the air strike even though there may have been Russian military advisers at the base, which he described as "a cause for concern for us."

Peskov said reports of an alleged poison gas attack in the suburbs of the Syrian capital needs to be investigated but said it was "wrong and dangerous" to draw any conclusions before a probe is completed.

———

1:50 p.m.

The Russian military says its officers have visited the site of a suspected poison gas attack in the suburbs of the Syrian capital and found no evidence to back up earlier reports.

Opposition activists and local rescuers said on Sunday that at least 40 people were killed in the poison gas attack on Saturday on the last remaining foothold for Syrian rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus.

The Russian military taskforce in Syria which operates in Damascus suburbs said it visited the hospital in Douma and talked to the staff and said they did not confirm reports of the assault.

The task force quoted a doctor and an ambulance driver who both said they have not received anyone with symptoms of chemical poisoning.

———

12:55 p.m.

The European Union is squarely laying the blame for the suspected poison gas attack with Syrian President Bashar Assad's government.

EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic said that over the weekend and early Monday as the reports came in of another atrocity in Syria, the EU "learned from several sources" to shape its conviction "that it is the Syrian regime which is responsible" when it comes to the suspected chemical attack.

The EU appealed in a statement on Sunday that Assad allies Russia and Iran "use their influence to prevent any further attack and ensure the cessation of hostilities and de-escalation of violence" as agree under a U.N. resolution.

———

12:45 p.m.

The Lebanese army says four Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon's air space, flying from the Mediterranean Sea over the coastal town of Jounieh and then heading east, toward the city of Baalbek near the Syrian border.

A statement from the Lebanese Armed Forces says the warplanes stayed in Lebanese airspace for about 10 minutes, starting at 3:25 a.m. on Monday before leaving it.

The army did not say whether the warplanes carried out the airstrikes on Syria's T4 air base earlier in the day in central Syria.

Russian and Syrian military officials have blamed Israel, saying Israeli warplanes struck the T4 air base while in Lebanese airspace in the early hours of Monday.

———

12:35 p.m.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says that Russia expects Turkey to bring the strategic northern Syrian town of Afrin, previously held by Syrian Kurdish forces, under the control of the Syrian government.

Turkey attacked Afrin in March to drive out the Kurdish militia, known as the YPG, which forms the backbone of the Syrian Democratic Forces, America's main partner in Syria.

Lavrov spoke to reporters on Monday.

He insisted that the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had "never said that Turkey wants to occupy Afrin" and that Russia now expects Turkey to bring the area under Syrian government control.

———

12: 30 p.m.

Hundreds of Syrians have poured into the main square of the country's largest city, Aleppo, to celebrate the surrender of opposition fighters near the capital of Damascus.

Men, women and children gathered in Saadallah al-Jabri's Square in the northern city, waving Syrian flags and saying they came to celebrate "victories of the Syrian army."

The rebels' defeat in eastern suburbs of Damascus is the biggest victory for the President Bashar Assad since December 2016, when government forces and their allies regained control of rebel-held eastern neighborhoods of Aleppo.

In Damascus, many residents celebrated throughout the night, with some shooting in the air.

Thousands of rebels and their families have agreed to leave the town of Douma, the last rebel-held area east of Damascus.

———

12:20 p.m.

Russia's foreign minister has called reports of a suspected poison gas attack in Syria a "provocation."

Syrian opposition activists and local rescuers said on Sunday that the suspected attack from the previous day against the last remaining foothold of the rebels in the eastern suburbs of Damascus killed at least 40 people.

Russia earlier managed to negotiate with the rebels an evacuation from that area.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday rejected the reports of the attack, calling it a "provocation." He said the Russian military visited the site of the suspected attack and found no traces of the chemicals.

———

9:45 a.m.

The Russian military says the Israeli Air Force was behind the airstrike in Syria and had launched eight missiles on a Syrian air base.

A Syrian military official also says Israel was behind the attack.

Russia's Defense Ministry says two Israeli fighter jets launched the attack on the T4 air base in central Syria from Lebanon's air space in the early hours on Monday.

The ministry says Syria shot down five out of the eight missiles that targeted the base. It says the other three landed in the western part of the T4 base.

Syrian state TV meanwhile quoted the unnamed military official as saying Israeli F-15 warplanes had fired several missiles while flying over neighboring Lebanon. The TV gave no further details.

———

9 a.m.

Syrian state media are saying that dozens of civilians who had been held for years by a rebel group near the capital of Damascus have been set free.

The state SANA news agency says the people were freed around midnight on Sunday. It says they had been held by the Army of Islam group since 2013.

Their release is part of a newly reached deal in which thousands of Army of Islam fighters and their relative will be allowed to leave the town of Douma and head to rebel-held part in northern Syria.

SANA released pictures of men, women and children waving from buses shortly after they crossed into government-controlled areas on the edge of Douma.

The Army of Islam is holding thousands of people in the Tawba prison that they run inside Douma.

———

7:55 a.m.

A Syrian war-monitoring group says 14 people, including Iranians, were killed in a missile attack early in the morning on an air base in central Syria.

Rami Abdurrahman, who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, says most of the 14 killed were either Iranians or members of Iran-backed groups.

Syria's state-run news agency earlier reported that missiles struck the T4 air base early on Monday. It said the attack left people dead and wounded. Although the agency said it was likely "an American aggression," U.S. officials said the United States had not launched any airstrikes on Syria.

Al-Manar TV station of Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which is fighting in Syria alongside the government forces, described the attack as an "Israeli aggression."

The Observatory says it wasn't immediately clear who was behind the attack.

———

7:20 a.m.

Syria's state news agency says missiles have struck an air base in central Syria in the early hours of the day.

The agency said it was likely "an American aggression" but U.S. officials say the United States had not launched airstrikes on Syria.

Monday's missile attack followed a suspected poison gas attack on Saturday on the last remaining foothold for the Syrian opposition in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. At least 40 people were killed, including families found in their homes and shelters, according to opposition activists and local rescuers.

SANA reported that the missile attack on the T4 military air base in Homs province resulted in a number of casualties.

The U.N. Security Council planned to hold an emergency meeting Monday to discuss the chemical attack.

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