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Russia vetoes UN resolution to condemn Syria gas attack

UK envoy Matthew Rycroft accused Russia of siding with 'murderous, barbaric criminal' in Syria
Russia's Vladimir Safronkov at Security Council meeting on Syria, 12 April (Reuters)

Russia blocked a Western effort at the UN Security Council on Wednesday to condemn last week's deadly gas attack in Syria and push Moscow's ally President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate with international inquiries into the incident.

China, which has vetoed six resolutions on Syria since the civil war began six years ago, abstained from Wednesday's vote, along with Ethiopia and Kazakhstan. Ten countries voted in favor of the text, while Bolivia joined Russia in voting no.

Britain, France and the US on Tuesday presented the draft resolution after the Security Council failed to agree on a response last week.

The measure would have required "full cooperation with the investigation" of the apparent attack in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft said on Twitter.

The Western trio has accused Assad's forces of carrying out the attack that killed at least 87 civilians, including 31 children, on 4 April.

The text called on the Syrian government to provide flight plans, flight logs and other information on its military operations on 4 April as well as hand over the names of commanders of helicopter squadrons.

Rycroft said on Tuesday the draft would condemn the attack and "require full cooperation by all the parties with the investigations" being run by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) – United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism.

On Wednesday, US envoy Nikki Haley told the Security Council that Washington wants a diplomatic solution to end the war in Syria.

"We are ready to throw our weight and resources behind diplomacy. We are ready to help bring this conflict to an end," Haley told the UN Security Council.

The US ambassador, however, added that Washington needed "partners who are serious about using their influence" over the Syrian government.

"The United States firmly believes that a political process can work, despite the odds," said Haley.

The US envoy took aim at Russia, saying it must "stop covering for Assad" and accused Iran of "dumping fuel on the flames of this war in Syria so that it can expand its own reach".

During the heated Security Council meeting, Russia's deputy UN envoy Vladimir Safronkov told the 15-member body that Western countries were wrong to blame Assad for the attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun.

"I'm amazed that this was the conclusion. No one has yet visited the site of the crime. How do you know that?" he said.

But Britain's Rycroft told the Security Council that samples taken from the site of the gas attack, in a rebel-held area of northern Syria, have tested positive for the nerve gas sarin.

He accused Russia of siding with "a murderous, barbaric criminal, rather than with their international peers".

Safronkov, who demanded Rycroft look at him while he was speaking, responded: "I cannot accept that you insult Russia."

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