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September 8, 2017 4:05 pm

Human Rights Watch Chief Blasted for Silence on Israeli Strike on Deadly Syrian Chemical Weapons Facility

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A Syrian couple grieving for their children murdered in a chemical weapons attack in Aleppo. Photo: Screenshot.

A prominent international human rights lawyer has strongly criticized Kenneth Roth — the head of arguably the world’s most influential human rights organization, Human Rights Watch — for his silence in the wake of the strike carried out by Israeli jets against a chemical weapons facility in western Syria this week.

Hillel Neuer — executive director of the Geneva-based NGO UN Watch — noted on Friday that “to his credit, Ken Roth, the influential head of Human Rights Watch, has repeatedly sounded the alarm over Syria’s chemical weapons attacks against its own people, devoting more than 500 tweets to the subject in the past five years.”

In one such tweet, Roth specifically identified the Masyaf facility that was hit by Israel as one of the chemical weapons sites controlled by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“Yet when Israel this week took action and struck the Masyaf chemical weapons factory — destroying the site identified by Roth, and enforcing the world’s red line that Roth identified — this supposed human rights champion suddenly went silent, even as he had just tweeted on the subject shortly before the Israeli operation was reported,” Neuer told The Algemeiner.

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“The natural thing to have done would be for Roth to commend Israel for turning ghastly weapons into dust, and potentially saving thousands of Syrian lives, for doing exactly what he had essentially been calling on nations to do,” Neuer said.

Roth was a vocal critic of the Obama administration’s refusal to enforce its own “red lines” on Assad’s use of illegal chemical weapons, arguing in 2013 that the international community must protect Syrian civilians from being slaughtered by Assad’s forces with both chemical and conventional weapons.

In May 2017, Human Rights Watch published a report that contained a harrowing account of the chemical weapons attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun the previous month, in which nearly 100 people died, as well as documenting fifteen other such attacks since November 2016 in which hundreds more were killed or severely wounded.

According to Western intelligence reports shared with the BBC, the Masyaf facility that was hit by Israeli fighter jets on Thursday was one of three sites under the control of Assad’s shadowy “Scientific Studies and Research Centre (SSRC)” that manufactured the chemical weapons used in these attacks.

While Israel has not confirmed or denied its responsibility for the Masyaf strike, as is customary, several of the country’s leading former security officials have been actively explaining Jerusalem’s rationale for the move. According to former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin — now the head of the Tel Aviv University-affiliated Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) — in strategic terms, the strike confronted both Russia and Iran with the reality that Israel will enforce its own red lines in Syria. But Yadlin also placed a strong emphasis on the target selected by the IDF, observing that the “factory in Masyaf produces the chemical weapons and barrel bombs that have killed thousands of Syrian civilians.”

“If the attack was conducted by Israel, it would be a commendable and moral action by Israel against the slaughter in Syria,” Yadlin said on Twitter.

Roth’s silence on Israel’s enforcement of the international prohibition on chemical weapons use was more evidence of the Human Rights Watch executive director’s determination “to only write about Israel to demonize the Jewish state,” Neuer asserted. Roth is a frequent and visceral critic of Israel who has accused the IDF of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Gaza Strip.

A representative of Human Rights Watch told The Algemeiner on Friday that the organization was “unable to comment on the Israeli strike on the Masyaf site in Syria.”

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