Watchdog: Chlorine used in Syrian town of Saraqeb

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 16, 2018

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons announced on Wednesday that chlorine was "likely used as a chemical weapon" in an attack on a Syrian town in February.

Banned chlorine munitions were likely dropped on a Syrian neighbourhood in February, an worldwide body on chemical weapons said on Wednesday, after laboratory tests confirmed the presence of the toxic chemical. The OPCW is not mandated to apportion blame for the attack.

The probe into the use of chlorine gas in the Saraqeb attack comes amid the OPCW's investigation into another attack two months later in Douma, near the capital Damascus - a much larger attack in April that triggered U.S., British and French strikes against government posts in Syria a week later.

The report by the OPCW's fact finding mission for Syria "determined that chlorine was released from cylinders by mechanical impact in the Al Talil neighbourhood of Saraqib".

People brought to local hospitals after the attack smelt of chlorine, the doctor said, and suffered breathing problems and irritation in their eyes.

Last month, Russian Federation held a press conference close to the OPCW headquarters in The Hague, at which it produced witnesses that claimed no chemical weapons attack had occurred, and that any choking had been due to dust inhalation.

"I strongly condemn the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by anyone, for any reason, and in any circumstances", said OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu.

"Such acts contradict the unequivocal prohibition against chemical weapons".

The conclusions on the Saraqib attack are based on the presence of two cylinders, which were determined as previously containing chlorine, witness testimony and environmental samples confirming "the unusual presence of chlorine", it said.

In line with its mandate, the OPCW did not say which party was behind the attack on Saraqeb, which lies in rebel-held territory in the province of Idlib. The province is also home to al-Qaida-linked militants.

The OPCW is also now investigating a suspected chemical attack last month in the then rebel-held town of Douma, in which medics say 40 people were killed. That attack led to the U.S., France and Britain blaming the Syrian government and launching joint punitive airstrikes targeting suspected Syrian chemical weapons facilities on April 14.

Reuters reported in January that tests found "markers" in samples taken at three attack sites between 2013 and 2017 from chemicals from the Syrian government stockpile.

The OPCW added that "the FFM's mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons have been used in Syria".

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