Chemicals confirmed in February Syria attack; Douma attack still being probed

Chemicals confirmed in February Syria attack; Douma attack still being probed

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OPCW personnel review updates on techniques and examples in a May training session in Cambodia (OPCW photo)

WASHINGTON — A United Nations team investigating an apparent chemical attack in Syria in February has concluded that chlorine was used as suspected.

In a report released Wednesday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said its investigation concluded that chlorine gas was released from cylinders “operated by mechanical impact” on February 4.

As per its mandate, the OPCW does not attempt to assign responsibility for the attack.

“I strongly condemn the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by anyone, for any reason, and in any circumstances.” OPCW Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü said in a news release. “Such acts contradict the unequivocal prohibition against chemical weapons enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention.”

The U.S, NATO and many other nations and entities have blamed supporters of Syria President Bashar al-Assad for the attack, which the Syrian regime has denied. Assad supporters had previously targeted civilians in the Saraqeb in Idlib province, the site of the February attack and which has been under rebel control since 2012.

The OPCW reached its conclusion based on “the presence of two cylinders, which were determined as previously containing chlorine; witness testimony; environmental samples that demonstrated the unusual presence of chlorine in the local environment; and the number of patients at medical facilities shortly after the incident who showed signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine and other toxic chemicals,” the report said.

Another OPCW fact-finding team continues to investigate the chemical attack on the rebel-held city of Douma on April 7, in which at least 48 people were killed by chemicals, believed to be chlorine and sarin.

One week after that attack, U.S., British and French planes and missiles struck targets in Syrian in retaliation for that chemical use.

“Samples (from Douma) were brought to the OPCW Laboratory where they will be split and then dispatched to the OPCW designated laboratories. The analysis of the samples may take at least three to four weeks. Meanwhile, the (OPCW) will continue its work to collect more information and material,” the OPCW said a statement.

OPCW officials could not give a timeframe for when the Douma report will be issued.

“In response to persistent allegations of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) was set up in 2014 with an ongoing mandate to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic,” the OPCW new release noted. “The FFM’s mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons have been used in Syria.”

The OPCW said it has previously confirmed with a “high degree of confidence” the use of chlorine, sulfur mustard, and sarin as weapons.

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