Chemical weapons such as chlorine and the banned nerve agent sarin gas were likely used in an attack in northern Syria in 2017, an international chemical weapons watchdog confirmed Wednesday.
The attack took place on March 24, 2017, in the village of Ltamenah in northern Syria. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and its fact-finding mission concluded that the chemical weapons were also likely used on a hospital in the area a day later.
“In response to persistent allegations of chemical weapon attacks in Syria, the OPCW Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) was set up in 2014 with an on-going mandate ‘to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals, reportedly chlorine, for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic,’” the background report read. “The FFM’s mandate is to determine whether chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons have been used in Syria. It does not include identifying who is responsible for alleged attacks.” The organization, which drew its conclusion based on epidemiological samples and environmental evidence, gave its report to the United Nations Secretary-General.
The use of banned chemical weapons has been an ongoing issue in the Syria civil war, which began in 2011. International organizations such as the United Nations have blamed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for their use. The Syrian regime first admitted that it had chemical weapons in 2012, around six months before seven people were allegedly killed by a poisonous gas in the Syrian city of Homs.
Recently, dozens were killed between January and April in suspected chemical weapons attacks on the suburbs of Damascus, which were controlled by rebel groups. According to a report published in March by the research group Bellingcat, there were at least four chemical weapons attacks in Eastern Ghouta and Douma.
“The recent targeting resulted in many injuries among civilians and the death of at least two children, which reinforces the fact that using chemical weapons appears to be a systematic policy pursued by the Syrian government during its ongoing battles. The first attack in 2018 occurred in the area between Douma and Harasta in Damascus Ghouta on January 13, 2018, the second attack took place on January 22, 2018, in the north-western area of Douma, and the third attack took place on February 1, 2018 in Douma as well,” the report indicated, referring to a city slightly north of Damascus.
In mid-April, the Trump administration ordered strikes against three targets in Syria believed to have chemical weapons facilities. Defense Secretary James Mattis called the attack a “one-time shot” meant to teach Assad a lesson.
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