10 Sep 2014

Syrian government continues ‘horrific chemical attacks’

Syria’s government is continuing to use chemical weapons in its war against rebels and jihadist groups, a new OPCW report finds.

Chlorine attack

Above: a child victim of an alleged chlorine gas attack on the village of Kafr Zeta, Syria, in May 2014.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said there was “compelling evidence” that chlorine had been used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in villages in northern Syria earlier this year.

“The descriptions, physical properties, behaviour of the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the response of patients to the treatment, leads the (OPCW’s) fact-finding mission to conclude with a high degree of confidence that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question,” the OPCW report said.

Chlorine was said to be used in attacks on Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zeta in the north of the country.

That the Assad regime continues to commit such atrocities against the people of Syria is an outrage. Philip Hammond

The OPCW has been overseeing the destruction of the Bashar al-Assad regime’s chemical weapons stockpile. In June the organisation said that the last shipment of dangerous chemicals that had been declared by the Syrian government had left the country.

However, Ahmet Uzumcu, OPCW director general, told Channel 4 News at the time that it was an “open question” if hidden chemical weapons remained in Syria.

He added that it was unlikely that chemical weapons were in the hands of the more extreme rebel groups in Syria, and said if conclusive evidence emerged of chemical weapons attacks the consequences would be “severe”.

Chlorine attack

Above: a victim of an alleged chlorine gas attack on the village of Talmanes in April.

Wednesday’s report said that the number of reports of chemical weapons attacks eased in May, June and July this year, following the establishment of the fact-finding mission. However, there was a spate of new reports in August.

The OPCW report is compiled from interviews with victims, physicians, first responders and eyewitnesses to the attacks, together with documentation such as videos and medical records.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the report’s findings are an “outrage”.

“The systematic and repeated use of chlorine in northern Syria and the consistent reports from witnesses of the presence of helicopters at the times of the attacks leave little doubt as to the Assad regime’s culpability,” he said.

“That the Assad regime continues to commit such atrocities against the people of Syria is an outrage.

“The regime’s horrific attacks on its own civilians with chemical as well as conventional weapons further highlight Assad’s disregard for international legal obligations, human rights and basic humanity.

“It is essential that the perpetrators of these crimes, and the other atrocities committed in Syria, are held to account. The UN Security Council must consider the report’s findings. We are consulting with international partners on the best course of action.”

The OPCW began destroying Syria’s chemical weapons following a horrific chemical weapons attack in east Damascus in August last year, in which thousands, mainly children, died.