December 21, 2016 / 4:51 PM / 7 months ago

Britain, France push U.N. Syria helicopter ban, sanctions over gas attacks

Syria's President Bashar al-Assad stands next to his wife Asma, as he addresses injured soldiers and their mothers during a celebration marking Syrian Mother's Day in Damascus, in this handout picture provided by SANA on March 21, 2016. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Britain and France want the United Nations Security Council to ban the sale or supply of helicopters to the Syrian government and to blacklist 11 Syrian military commanders and officials over chemical weapons attacks during the nearly six-year war.

The pair have drafted a resolution, seen by Reuters on Wednesday, that also seeks to blacklist 10 government and related entities involved in the development and production of chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

The U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has found that Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks and that Islamic State militants had used mustard gas.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government has denied its forces have used chemical weapons.

Experts from the 15 Security Council members informally discussed the draft on Tuesday, diplomats said, and Syrian ally Russia, one of five council veto powers, made clear it would not support the text.

"We hope to have a vote before the end of the year," British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters on Wednesday.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault told Reuters on Wednesday: "It is out of the question to let these crimes go unpunished. I can't imagine the argument a country could use to close its eyes to the use of chemical weapons."

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said last month that there was "just not enough material proof to do anything" and described the French and British bid to impose sanctions as a "misplaced effort."

The U.N./OPCW inquiry found Syrian government forces had used helicopters to drop barrel bombs containing chlorine gas. It found those flights came from two bases where the 253 and 255 squadrons, belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade, were based.

The proposed sanctions list includes the 63rd helicopter brigade commander and deputy commander, commander of the Syrian Air Force 63rd air brigade, commander of the Syrian Air and Air Defense Forces, and head of the Syrian Air Force intelligence.

They could be subjected to a global asset freeze and travel ban by the U.N. Security Council.

Also on the possible blacklist is the director-general of the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, which the draft resolution says is responsible for the development and production of chemical weapons and the missiles to deliver them.

Chlorine's use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns to hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in body fluids.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Moscow and Washington. The Security Council backed that deal with a resolution that said in the event of non-compliance, "including unauthorised transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone" in Syria, it would impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

Chapter 7 deals with sanctions and authorization of military force by the Security Council.

Additional reporting by John Irish; Editing by Clive McKeef and Lisa Shumaker

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