Chemical terrorism may spread across the Middle East

The International Meeting on Syria in Astana is scheduled for March 14-15 and will be attended by representatives of the Syrian Government and the armed opposition groups that have supported the cessation of hostilities. Moscow is satisfied  with the progress of the Astana Process, where the driving force is the three guarantors of the cessation of hostilities are Russia, Turkey and Iran. "Agreements reached in this format have made it possible to meaningfully reduce the level of violence in Syria and improve the humanitarian situation. It became possible to substantially expand and consolidate the ceasefire and involve a number of armed groups based in southern Syria in the political process," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.

The Ministry believes that  the new meeting in Astana will be of much help for holding the fifth round of the UN-sponsored intra-Syrian talks in Geneva, which are to begin on March 23. "We hope that preparations for the new contacts in Geneva will facilitate yet another step towards forming a broad-based and strong delegation of the Syrian opposition, which would take into account the vision and points of view of all ethnic and religious segments of Syrian society and whose willingness to negotiate is not in question," Zakharova said.

Meanwhile, the military and political situation in Syria remains tense. The government forces are building on their successes in the fight against ISIS and Nusra. The situation in Iraq's Mosul, where terrorists are using chemical weapons, is just as difficult.

"In this context, it is interesting what western experts are saying. They stated that after ISIS fighters occupied Mosul in the summer of 2014, they obtained access to a research library and laboratories of a local university, which greatly enhanced their capability to produce chemical weapons. ISIS counted among its members former Iraqi officers who were involved in Saddam Hussein’s chemical weapons programme, as well as certified chemistry experts from abroad. As for ISIS chemical weapons production facilities in Iraq, Iraqis themselves and representatives of the US-led anti-ISIS coalition reported the discovery of these facilities," Zakharova noted.

"The recurring cases of chemical terrorism in the Middle East, including in Syria and Iraq, are a matter of grave concern. Not only do fighters from ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other affiliated extremist groups have industrial and domestic toxic substances in their possession, such as chlorine, but also toxic weapons-grade agents, including mustard gas and sarin. All this confirms what we have been saying all along, that terrorists have the capability to produce and use chemical weapons. Non-state actors in Syria and Iraq were able to expand their cross-border terrorist activity, making it more systematic. There is a threat of chemical terrorism spreading across the Middle East," she concluded.

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