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Syria probably behind 2018 chlorine attack, OPCW investigation finds

The government of President Bashar Assad denies the claims of chemical weapons use. Picture by Vahid Salemi/AP
Associated Press Reporter

An investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog has found “reasonable grounds to believe” that a Syrian air force military helicopter dropped a chlorine cylinder on a Syrian town in 2018.

It is the second time the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) Investigation and Identification Team has concluded that Syrian government armed forces were probably responsible for a gas attack.

Last year, the team also found reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for attacks using chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in March 2017 in the town of Latamneh.

Syria has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons during the country’s grinding civil war.

The government of President Bashar Assad denies the claims.

In the latest report, the OPCW investigation team said it found evidence that a military helicopter belonging to the Tiger Forces of the Syrian air force dropped at least one chlorine cylinder on the rebel-held northern Syrian town of Saraqeb on February 4 2018.

“The cylinder ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals,” the watchdog said in a statement.

Those affected all survived, the report said.

As part of the investigation, experts interviewed witnesses, analysed samples and remnants collected from the town as well as reviewing symptoms reported by casualties and studying satellite imagery and modelling gas dispersion patterns.

The OPCW cannot hold individuals criminally responsible for attacks.

The report will be shared with the organisation’s member states and the United Nations.

It is likely to be discussed at a meeting of the OPCW member states later this month.

The investigative team was established after Russia blocked the extension of a joint investigation mechanism set up by the UN and OPCW in 2015.

That team accused Syria of using chlorine in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and of unleashing sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed about 100 people.

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