25th Sep 2023

EU blames Syria for gas attack, urges UN action

EU countries have said Syria used chemical weapons against its own people, but want the US and France to give the UN more time.

The bloc's foreign ministers noted in a statement on Saturday (7 September) that: "Information from a wide variety of sources … seems to indicate strong evidence that the Syrian regime is responsible for these attacks."

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  • Ashton in Vilnius: The EU said letting Syria off the hook would create 'a dreadful precedent' (Photo: EEAS)

They called the gas attack, which killed hundreds of civilians on the outskirts of Damascus on 21 August, "a war crime and a crime against humanity."

They also said the "international community" should give a "clear and strong response" to stop Syria from doing it again.

The statement was published after ministers met US secretary of state John Kerry in Vilnius.

The US, France, Australia and Turkey say they are ready to strike Syria with or without a UN mandate because Syria's ally, Russia, is vetoing UN action.

Britain and Denmark back their position. But Greece and the Netherlands have said UN authority is needed, while Germany and Italy have flip-flopped on the issue.

The EU statement "underscores" the "to move forward with addressing the Syrian crisis through the UN process."

It also "notes" that UN weapons inspectors in Syria will shortly file a report and it "welcomes" France's pledge not to act before the report is in.

EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton indicated the US might not be as patient as France, however.

Asked by press in Vilnius if Kerry had also promised to wait for the UN report, she said no one had asked him for such a pledge, adding "that's for them [the US]" to decide.

An EU diplomat told EUobserver the Union remains divided on the UN question.

But he said a majority of member states want there to be a UN vote before military action, even if Russia vetoes it again.

"People are coming to this line that the UN should at least be seized on the matter. But what happens if the UN continues to be blocked remains to be seen," he said.

Meanwhile, Kerry urged the EU to put on ice its new guidelines for Israeli settler firms.

The European Commission on 19 July published rules which forbid funding for Israeli activity on Palestinian land.

Kerry said the move risks harming Arab-Israeli peace talks. "There was strong support for his efforts and an openness to considering his requests," a US official told Reuters.

Some EU countries, such as Ireland, are firmly opposed to a u-turn, however.

Ashton told press the EU will implement the rules "sensitively." An EU diplomat told this website: "There was no conclusion about this at the meeting. It's still an open discussion."

In an insight on how the rules work, the commission on 5 July agreed to invest €6.2 million in an Israeli project, called Superflex, to develop skincare for old people.

The project is run by cosmetics firm Ahava, which is based in Israel proper, but which has a factory and a laboratory in the Mitzpe Shalem settlement.

The project lasts until mid-2017 and might use Mitzpe Shalem facilities.

But if Ahava had applied after 19 July, it would have had to declare that no EU-funded work would be done in the settlement and the EU would have the power to take back money if Ahava lied.

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