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UK FM says UN should investigate white phosphorus allegations

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UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Tuesday expressed concern about reports of the alleged use of white phosphorus in Syria in Turkish-backed operations against the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“We are very concerned by the reports— which have not yet been fully verified, as we have said—and we want to see a swift and thorough investigation by the UN Commission of Investigation. That is what we are pressing for."

Conservative MP Crispin Blunt asked the British Foreign Secretary if the UK would hold Turkey and its local allies to account. “There is nowpretty incontrovertible evidence that white phosphorus has been used as a weapon against civilians, if not other chemical weapons, either by the Turks or by their Syrian auxiliary allies. This is a matter of immense seriousness,” he argued.

Earlier concerns have been raised over Britain’s sales of phosphorus products to Turkey amid evidence the incendiary chemical has been used against Kurds in northeastern Syria, The Times reported.

The UK earlier stopped further export licenses for items that could be used in military operations in Syria after Turkey launched its attack on SDF forces on Oct. 9.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) head, Fernando Arias, told reporters on Tuesday that white phosphorus cannot be used as a chemical weapon and is used as a conventional armament to produce smoke as incendiary weapon or light. He stated that it therefore “doesn’t fall under the chemical weapons treaty.”

However, Kurdish activists are concerned the OPCW doesn’t want to investigate the case after the organization on Oct. 17 received €30,000 from Turkey for the Future OPCW Centre for Chemistry and Technology.  

A leading British chemicals expert, Hamish de Bretton Gordon, a former commander of the UK’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, told Kurdistan 24 that the UN could investigate the incident, even if the OPCW does not wish to pursue it.

“White phosphorus is legal as illumination or a smoke screen,” he told Kurdistan 24. “But it is illegal under Protocol 111 of the Geneva Convention to use as an incendiary device against civilians as appears in the case here.”  

He added that there is “there is plenty of evidence that this is white phosphorus, but very little evidence of who is responsible.”

“No NATO countries appear to be keen to investigate, which again as this is in Syria would be extremely difficult,” he added.

The Syrian Kurdish Red Crescent so far has provided evidence to human rights organizations and others who are interested.

According to a report, Abbas Mansouran, a Swedish-national doctor in northeastern Syria, has seen around 30 cases of "burn types very different to those I would expect to have been caused by anything other than a chemical incendiary weapons like white phosphorus."

One example is Mohammed Hamid, 13, who suffered significant burns to half of his body during a Turkish assault on the northern Kurdish town of Serekaniye on Oct. 18. He was transported from the Kurdistan Region of Iraq to France to be treated for his significant wounds.

The Turkish Defense Ministry has denied it used white phosphorus. However, it is also possible that Turkey’s rebel allies could have used the weapon.

Hamish de Bretton Gordon confirmed white phosphorus could be used in artillery and mortar attacks.

In a 2016 Amnesty report, Aleppo-based rebel groups used chemical weapons as well as hell cannon gas canister munitions against Kurdish armed groups in Aleppo.

One of the groups, the Army of Islam, admitted in 2016 that one of its leaders used an “unauthorized weapon”. The group now participates in the Turkish-backed operation in the northeast.
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