US, France call for action following Syria chemical attacks
A group of countries are pushing for sanctions against perpetrators of chemical attacks in Syria, after new strikes on opposition areas of Damascus.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Russia "ultimately bears responsibility" for such strikes, ratcheting up the pressure against Syrian regime backer Moscow.
Twenty-four nations have approved a new "partnership against impunity" for the use of chemical weapons.
It comes just a day after a chemical attack hospitalised 21 people in rebel-held Eastern Ghouta, which Tillerson said was suspected to involve chlorine.
"Whoever conducted the attacks, Russia ultimately bears responsibility for the victims in East Ghouta and countless other Syrians targeted with chemical weapons since Russia became involved in Syria," Tillerson.
"There is simply no denying that Russia, by shielding its Syrian ally, has breached its commitments to the US as a framework guarantor" overseeing the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles, as agreed in September 2013, he added.
Despite its pledge to destroy such weapons, the Syrian regime has been repeatedly accused of staging chemical attacks.
Russia responded with an angry rebuke and called for an investigation, which the 24 countries said was an attempt to derail their efforts to punish the perpetrators.
Russian envoy Vassily Nebenzia lashed out at Tillerson for having "hastily accused the Syrian - as they call it 'regime'," of the attack.
"Now they are trying to drag Russia into this as well."
The Eastern Ghouta left its victims - including children - struggling to breathe and follows a similar attack around two weeks earlier.
An April 2017 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held village of Khan Sheikhoun which left scores dead, has been widely blamed on the Syrian regime.
There have been at least 130 separate chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2012, according to French estimates.
Although the vast majority are thought to have been carried out by the Syrian regime, the Islamic State group is also accused of using mustard gas in Syria and Iraq.
Russia twice used its UN veto in November to block an extension of an international expert inquiry into chemical attacks in Syria, to the consternation of Western powers.
Moscow, backed by Iran and Turkey, has organised talks in the Russian city of Sochi next week aimed at finding a resolution to the brutal war.
Those efforts are running parallel to talks overseen by the UN, with the latest round due in Vienna on Thursday and Friday.
The talks have so far failed to make progress in ending a war that has left more than 340,000 people dead.
Russia joined the Syria war in September 2015 to boost the regime in its war against rebels. Moscow has launched air strikes on opposition towns that are believed to have killed thousands of civilians.