UNITED NATIONS - Russia on Tuesday vetoed a US-drafted resolution that would have extended for a year the mandate of a panel investigating who is behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

It was the ninth time Russia has used its veto power at the Security Council to block action targeting its Syrian ally.

Russia opposed renewing the mandate of the joint UN-Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) panel before the commission releases a report on a sarin gas attack in Khan Sheikhun, which is expected on Thursday.

The United States, France and Britain have accused President Bashar al-Assad's forces of carrying out the April 4 attack on the opposition-held village, killing scores of people including children.

Following the Russian veto, US Ambassador Nikki Haley accused Moscow of "once again" siding "with the dictators and terrorists who use these weapons."

"Russia has once again demonstrated it will do whatever it takes to ensure the barbaric Assad regime never faces consequences for its continued use of chemicals as weapons," Haley said in a statement.

"By rejecting the renewal of the work of the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) - an independent, purely technical body - Russia has made it clear that it does not care about stopping the use of chemical weapons in the world."

Russia failed at the opening of the meeting to garner enough support for a measure that would have delayed the vote until next month. The JIM's mandate ends on November 17.

China and Kazakhstan abstained, while Bolivia voted against the renewal and 11 other countries backed extending the mandate. Russia used its veto to block adoption.

A resolution requires nine votes to be adopted at the council, but five countries - Russia, Britain, China, France and the United States - can block adoption with their veto power.

Russian Ambassador Vasily Nebenzia accused the United States and its partners of seeking a vote on the measure "to show up and dishonor Russia." "What is taking place today is not very pleasant," said Nebenzia. "It stinks, in fact."

The ambassador renewed his criticism of the panel, saying its methodology and "the lack of evidence" in the Khan Sheikhun investigation was "laughable."

Last month, UN war crimes investigators said they had evidence that the Syrian air force was behind the Khan Sheikhun attack, despite repeated denials from Damascus.

More than 87 people died in Khan Sheikhun, drawing global outrage and prompting the United States to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian air base from which the West says the attack was launched.

Russia maintains that the sarin attack was most likely caused by a bomb set off directly on the ground, not by a Syrian air strike as alleged by the West.

While the OPCW has established that sarin was used in the April attack, it does not have a mandate to assign blame for the attack, leaving that determination to the JIM.

The JIM has already concluded that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that Islamic State jihadist group used mustard gas in 2015.

In February, a resolution put forward by the United States, Britain and France to impose sanctions on Syrian officials who were allegedly involved in those chlorine attacks was vetoed by Russia and China.

 

US-led coalition denies deadly strikes

The US-led coalition battling the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq denied on Tuesday that it had carried out deadly air strikes around the Syrian city of Deir Ezzor.

The strikes on Deir Ezzor, where Syrian regime forces backed by Russia have seized most of the city from IS, were reported late on Monday by a monitoring group, a local official and Syrian state television.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 22 civilians were killed in strikes by unidentified aircraft in the Al-Qusur neighbourhood, in the west of the city.

A local official said 14 people were killed and blamed coalition strikes.

"The allegation that a coalition strike may have killed 14 civilians and wounded 32 others in Deir Ezzor is false," coalition spokesman Ryan Dillon told AFP.

"Russian-backed pro-regime forces are conducting operations in Deir Ezzor and the coalition does not support pro-regime operations," he said.

Dillon said the coalition had carried out only one strike in the area in the last two months, on September 16 in support of US-backed forces fighting IS east of the city.

Syrian regime forces backed by ally Russia have seized most of Deir Ezzor city after breaking an IS siege of nearly three years on government-held districts in September.

The regime offensive against IS, backed by Russian airpower, is being waged largely on the western side of the Euphrates river that cuts diagonally across Deir Ezzor province.

A second, separate offensive against the jihadists is being fought on the eastern side by the Kurdish-Arab Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by the coalition.

A "deconfliction" mechanism is meant to keep the two campaigns separate.

IS controls less than half of Deir Ezzor province, its last remaining stronghold in the country after the SDF ousted it from its bastion Raqa last week. More than 330,000 people have been killed in Syria since the war began in March 2011 with anti-government protests.