On 4 April 2017, it was reported that the Syrian town of Khan Shaykhun – controlled at the time by the Tahrir Al-Sham Alliance – had been the object of an airstrike by the air force of the Government of President Bashar Al Assad. As a result of the airstrike, chemical agents poisoned large numbers of civilians.
In a report released on 30 June 2017, the Fact-Finding Mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) estimated the number of deaths “as approximately 100 people” and determined that “Sarin or a Sarin-like substance” had been used as a weapon in Khan Shaykhun. It took until 27 October 2017 for the OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism to take position on the responsibility for the attack and affirm that the Leading Panel of the mechanism itself was “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of Sarin at Khan Shaykhun on 4 April 2017”.
In the aftermath of the attack, however, several countries condemned the action and the United States (US), the United Kingdom and France openly called into question the responsibility of the Syrian Government. The US President, Mr. Donald Trump, condemned the attack as “intolerable” and openly blamed the inaction of his predecessor Barack Obama, who, after establishing “a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons did nothing”. On its part, the Syrian government denied any involvement in the use of chemical weapons. The Government of the Russian Federation offered alternative explanations of the events, mentioning the fact that the Syrian Air Force could have “bombed an underground factory producing chemical warfare agents” or alluding to a possible “provocation by the terrorists”. Within the United Nations (UN) Security Council, a draft resolution condemning the attack – tabled by France, the United Kingdom and the US – was vetoed by the Russian Federation, with the abstention of China, Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.
During 2016, the Italian Government was often questioned before the Parliament about arms exports from Italy to countries where either a conflict was occurring or international norms were being violated. The statements by the different members of the Government highlighted a heterogeneous practice, contingent upon different variables, some of which related to the presence of international measures and others to political considerations of the Government itself.
In the last quarter of 2015 the Government reported twice before the Chamber of Deputies on its arms sales policy to certain Middle East countries allegedly involved in illicit arms trafficking with ISIL/Daesh. The Government also explained which measures and actions Italy has undertaken in the fight against ISIL and foreign terrorist fighters. The most salient points from the two speeches follow:
CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, XVII LEGISLATURE, 530th MEETING, 26 NOVEMBER 2015.
On 26 November 2015, during a question time taking place at the Chamber of Deputies, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, took position on the possible involvement of the Russian Federation in the international coalition against ISIL/Daesh. He stated:
CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, XVII LEGISLATURE, 522th MEETING, 16 NOVEMBER 2015.
On 16November 2015, during an urgent report to the Chamber of Deputies, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, made an urgent report on the terrorist attacks against the city of Paris in the night between 13 and 14 November 2015. On that occasion he described the role of Italy in the international coalition against ISIL/Daesh and stated:
JOINT COMMISSIONS III AND IV OF THE CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES AND 3rd AND 4th OF THE SENATE (FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND DEFENCE), XVII LEGISLATURE, 21st MEETING, 6 OCTOBER 2015.
On 6 October 2015, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, and the Minister of Defence, Ms Roberta Pinotti, delivered two statements before the Joint Commissions of Foreign Affairs and Defence of the Parliament. Mr Gentiloni started by illustrating the foreign policy of Italy with particular regard to the Mediterranean and Middle East areas. In this context, he recalled the role played by Italy in the fight against ISIL/Daesh. He stated:
CHAMBER OF DEPUTIES, XVII LEGISLATURE, 478th MEETING, 9 SEPTEMBER 2015.
On 9 September 2015, during a question time taking place at the Chamber of Deputies, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Paolo Gentiloni Silveri, took position on the need for a political transition in Syria. He stated the following: