Mother Agnes tells UN that chemical attacks were staged by rebels
The report was also used as part of the evidence that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov delivered to his US counterpart John Kerry, where he claimed that the Ghouta chemical attack in Damascus on 21 August was actually a "provocation" by Syrian rebels.
Mother Agnes is originally from Lebanon but has lived for decades in the monastery of St James the Mutilated, Syria.
In the recent months she has added to her monastic duties by embarking on an investigation into the chemical attacks that have caused such a stir within the UN, leading to an agreed disarmament of all of Syria’s chemical weapons.
The disarmament mission began on Tuesday as a team of UN experts arrived in Damascus.
Mother Agnes has compiled a report in which she claims that the chemical attacks were in fact not the work of Syrian president Assad and his regime, as much of the international community believes, but were fabricated by opposition rebels.
She claims to have conducted an exhaustive analysis of the videos (which constitute a major part of the evidence used by the US and allies in their accusations against Assad) and she insists that there is clear indication of such fabrication.
Her report makes some surprising allegations (which may be accessed here, but be advised that the report contains graphic images which readers may find disturbing).
Some of these include the abduction of women and children from minority Alawite communities (to which President Assad and his family belong), as well as the manipulation of bodies.
In an interview with the BBC she says that "Some families of the abducted people contacted us to claim that some of the children presented as victims of chemical attacks are in reality their own children."
She also refers to the same children showing up in videos of different locations and incidents: "Why should they take a corpse to many locations?"
"It is evidence my dear” she tells BBC correspondent Richard Galpin. “I am not a commission of inquiry, but for me it is sure. I have evidence that confirms there's been manipulation of the corpses."
She also told the BBC that she had been to rebel occupied zones. "I found a situation like Afghanistan," stated the religious, "with Islamic tribunals…which decided if people would be beheaded, cut to pieces or raped."
However Peter Bouckaert, the emergencies director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), has said that "there's just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes."
In a report released by HRW, his colleague Carroll Bogert, writes that “Mother Agnès does not have direct knowledge of the Ghouta attack.”
“Her convent is located some 100 kilometers from the attack sites” Bogert continues. “She does not have military expertise and has not visited the site or examined the remains.”
She writes that “The UN inspectors, as well as HRW, identified two systems that launched the rockets carrying Sarin into Ghouta. Both systems are known to be in the arsenal of the Syrian armed forces… These launching systems and their rockets have never been seen in rebel hands.”
However, regardless of whether or not Russia convinces the UN that the 21/8 Ghouta attack was rebel fabrication, the fact remains that the chemical arms disarmament mission has already been put into effect, which will see the eventual destruction of all chemical weapons in Syria.
This, surely, can only be a step in the right direction.
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