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Heated discussion held during UNSC meeting over possibility of biochemical weapons

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(Last Updated On: March 14, 2022)

Washington’s ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Friday warned Russia’s claim that the US is funding “military biological activities” in Ukraine could be a pretext for Moscow launching its own biological weapons attack on Ukraine.

Thomas-Greenfield made the comments during a UN Security Council meeting that had been called at Russia’s request to discuss Moscow’s claims that Ukraine is secretly developing biological weapons with the help of the US.

As reported by the Guardian, the event saw some heated discussion.

The Russian ambassador to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, evoked the terrifying specter of an “uncontrolled spread of bio agents from Ukraine” across Europe, but Thomas-Greenfield responded that Russia’s claim could be a pretext for launching its own biological weapons attack on Ukraine.

This came after the Russian ministry of foreign affairs posted a tweet last Sunday accusing the US and Ukrainian governments of running a secret “military-biological programme” inside the war-ravaged country.

Moscow claimed that its invading forces had discovered evidence of an “emergency clean-up” to hide the programme.

Moscow went on to claim that it had found documents related to the secret US operation in laboratories in the Ukrainian cities of Kharkiv and Poltava.

The Guardian reported that these allegations were quickly amplified by China, which supported the claims during Friday’s UN security council debate.

However, both the US and Ukraine have denied that they are developing any biological weapons inside the country.

At Friday’s meeting, Thomas-Greenfield, said: “I will say this once: ‘Ukraine does not have a biological weapons program.’” She went on to turn the accusation back on Moscow. “It is Russia that has long maintained a biological weapon program in violation of international law,” the Guardian reported.

The UN high commissioner for disarmament, Izumi Nakamitsu, confirmed that the UN was not aware of any biological weapons programmes in Ukraine.

However, the Guardian reported that Ukraine does operate biological laboratories which receive US funding.

The US undersecretary of state Victoria Nuland affirmed these facts in a Senate foreign relations committee hearing last week in which the Republican senator Marco Rubio asked her directly whether Ukraine had biological weapons, the Guardian reported.

Nuland did not answer the question directly but said: “Ukraine has biological research facilities.”

She also said there was concern that Russian forces were trying to gain control of the labs. “We are working with the Ukrainians on how they can prevent any of those research materials from falling into the hands of Russian forces.”

According to the Guardian, US funding to the laboratories had its roots in the fall of the Soviet Union after which money was pumped into Ukraine and other former Soviet countries to help them transfer scientific skills away from weapons programs towards public health initiatives.

The scheme was originally known as the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) program, but is now more commonly referred to as the biological engagement program. It has been successful in supporting former Soviet and other countries to fulfil public health obligations, the Guardian reported.

“This is one of the best things that we do,” Dr Gigi Gronvall, senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told the Guardian.

Most of the work of the Ukraine labs today, Gronvall said, involved surveillance of diseases in animals and people as an early-warning system for illnesses such as African swine fever, which is endemic in the region. “We know pathogens don’t respect borders, so helping to put out public health fires before they become too big is an advantage to all of us,” she said.

However, the Guardian reported that as part of their work researching diseases the bio labs do seem to hold dangerous pathogens.

According to the report, the World Health Organization (WHO) is urging Ukraine to destroy any highly dangerous agents in its laboratories to avoid the risk of a disastrous outbreak should one of the labs come under Russian attack.

“As part of this work, WHO has strongly recommended to the ministry of health in Ukraine and other responsible bodies to destroy high-threat pathogens to prevent any potential spills,” the UN health agency said.

The WHO has worked in Ukraine for several years helping the bio labs improve their safety and security, so it knows what it is talking about, the Guardian reported.

However, the report stated that in addition to the threat of pathogens held in Ukrainian labs leaking out or falling into the hands of Russian forces, there is the threat of Russia potentially launching its own biological weapons attack.

The assessment of the US state department is that Russia continues to maintain an offensive biological weapons programme in violation of the convention that it has signed.

Earlier this week, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, accused Russia under Vladimir Putin of having a “long and well-documented track record” of using chemical weapons, pointing to the poisoning of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Russia’s support of the Syrian regime while it deployed chemical weapons.

She went on to warn that Moscow’s claim of a secret biological weapons programme in Ukraine could in fact be laying the foundations for a Russian chemical or biological weapons assault inside Ukraine, the Guardian reported.

World

Israeli airstrike kills two people in Damascus, Syrian state TV says

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(Last Updated On: February 22, 2024)

An Israeli airstrike hit a residential building in the Kafr Sousa district in Syria’s capital Damascus on Wednesday, killing two people, Syrian state media and a security source said.

A military source cited by Syrian state TV said the strike at about 9:40 a.m. (0640 GMT) wounded a number of other people, identifying the dead as civilians, Reuters reported.

Images published by Syrian state media showed the charred side of a multi-storey building. The security source said the “attack did not achieve its aims”.

The neighbourhood hosts residential buildings, schools and Iranian cultural centres, and lies near a large, heavily-guarded complex used by security agencies. The district was struck in an Israeli attack in February 2023 that killed Iranian military experts.

Witnesses heard several back-to-back explosions. The blasts scared children at a nearby school and ambulances rushed to the area, the witnesses told Reuters.

There was no immediate comment from the Israeli military.

Iran’s semi-official Student News Network said no Iranian citizens were killed in the strike, read the report.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Reuters witness heard another large blast in the capital that shook the windows of homes. Local Syrian outlet Sham FM said several explosions were heard in the capital without specifying the cause.

Iran has been a major backer of President Bashar al-Assad during Syria’s nearly 12-year-old conflict. Its support for Damascus and the Lebanese group Hezbollah has drawn regular Israeli air strikes meant to curb Tehran’s extraterritorial military power.

Those strikes have ramped up in line with flaring regional tensions since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel, with more than half a dozen Iranian Revolutionary Guards officers killed in suspected Israeli strikes on Syria since December.

As a result, the Guards have scaled back deployment of their senior officers in Syria and have planned to rely more on allied Shi’ite militia to preserve their sway there, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier this month.

Iran, a backer of Hamas, has sought to stay out of the conflict itself even as it supports groups that have entered the fray from Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq and Syria – the so-called “Axis of Resistance” that is hostile to Israeli and U.S. interests.

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World

US military drone shot down near Yemen, US officials say

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(Last Updated On: February 21, 2024)

A U.S. military Mq-9 drone was shot down near Yemen by Iran-backed militants, two U.S. officials said on Tuesday, the second time such a shoot down has taken place in recent months during a near daily tit-for-tat between the group and U.S. forces, Reuters reported.

The Houthis, who have controlled most of Yemen for nearly a decade, have carried out repeated drone and missile strikes since November in the Red Sea and Bab al-Mandab Strait against commercial and military ships. U.S. and British forces have responded with multiple strikes on Houthi facilities but have so far failed to halt the attacks.

One of the officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said initial information showed that the U.S. drone, made by General Atomics, was hit near Hodeidah on Monday. The official said information could change and did not say if the drone was in international airspace.

The second official said the drone was shot down by a Houthi surface-to-air missile fired from near Hodeida.

The comments by the officials confirm a claim by the Houthis that they had shot down a drone near the port city, read the report.

In November, another Mq-9 was shot down by the Houthis and two drones were brought down by the group in 2019.

The Houthi militants said on Monday they had attacked the Rubymar cargo vessel in the Gulf of Aden, which was at risk of sinking, raising the stakes in their campaign to disrupt global shipping in solidarity with Palestinians in the Gaza war.

Despite Western attacks on them in Yemen, the Houthis have vowed to continue targeting ships linked to Israel until attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip stop, Reuters reported.

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World

Israel opposes ‘unilateral’ imposition of Palestinian state

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(Last Updated On: February 19, 2024)

Israel on Sunday formalised its opposition to what it called the “unilateral recognition” of Palestinian statehood, and said any such agreement must be reached through direct negotiations, Reuters reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought the “declaratory decision” to a vote in cabinet, which unanimously approved the measure, according to a statement.

Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly meeting that the move comes after “recent talk in the international community about an attempt to unilaterally impose on Israel a Palestinian state.”

The war in Gaza that has raged since Hamas’ Oct. 7 rampage through Israeli communities is the latest in a conflict between Israelis and Palestinians that has rumbled on for seven decades and destabilised the Middle East.

Efforts to achieve a two-state solution – a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside Israel – have been stalled since 2014, read the report.

U.S. President Joe Biden has been trying to clinch an even broader deal in the Middle East, that would include Saudi Arabia and other Arab states normalizing ties with Israel, as well as the creation of a Palestinian state.

The formal Israeli statement, according to Netanyahu’s office, reflects the fact that: “Israel rejects outright international dictates regarding a permanent accord with the Palestinians. An accord, should it be reached, will only come through direct negotiations between the sides, without preconditions.”

“Israel will continue to oppose the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state. Such recognition in the wake of the October 7th massacre will grant a huge, unprecedented reward to terrorism and prevent any future peace accord,” it said.

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