Probe finds Syrian air force behind toxic gas attack on Saraqeb in 2018


An investigation by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has found  “reasonable grounds to believe” Syrian air force helicopter dropped a chlorine bomb on an opposition-held town on February 04, 2018.

The investigative team sent by the OPCW concluded that a cylinder dropped from a helicopter released a toxic gas cloud that affected 12 individuals in Saraqeb.

There was no immediate response from the Syrian government or military although they have previously denied allegations that government forces used chlorine or the nerve agent Sarin during Syria’s decade-long civil war.

The conflict has left at least 380,000 people dead and caused half the population to flee their homes, including almost six million refugees abroad.

The OPCW said members of its Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) interviewed witnesses to the incident in Saraqeb, analysed samples and remnants collected at the scene, reviewed the symptoms of casualties and medical staff, examined imagery and consulted experts.

Their report concludes that on the night of February 04, 2018, during on-going attacks against Saraqeb, a Syrian Arab Air Force military helicopter under the control of the elite Tiger Forces unit hit the eastern part of the town by dropping at least one cylinder.

“The cylinder ruptured and released a toxic gas, chlorine, which dispersed over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals,” the report adds.

The victims, rescuers and medical personnel said they suffered symptoms including shortness of breath, skin irritation, chest pain and coughing. Toxicologists concluded that they were consistent with exposure to a toxic gas like chlorine, according to the report.

The Syrian army told the OPCW that rescue workers and jihadist fighters brought chlorine-filled cylinders to Saraqeb and staged the incident, according to the report. However, the IIT said the allegation was not supported by any concrete evidence.

Last year, the IIT released a report saying there were reasonable grounds to believe Syrian air force jets and a helicopter dropped two bombs containing Sarin and a cylinder filled with chlorine on the rebel-held village of Latamina in three attacks between March 24 and 30, 2017.

The IIT is tasked with identifying the perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, as determined by a separate OPCW Fact-Finding Mission.

The watchdog’s member states established the IIT after Russia – whose forces are backing the Syrian military – vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of a joint UN-OPCW mission.

The joint mission accused government forces of using Sarin in an attack on the opposition-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun on April 04, 2017, which reportedly killed more than 80 people. It also concluded that government forces had used chlorine as a weapon on other occasions.

The IIT has been asked to investigate an incident in the then besieged opposition-held town of Douma on April 07, 2018 that medics said killed more than 40 people.

The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission said data gave “reasonable grounds that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon took place” in Douma, and that the “chemical contained reactive chlorine”. (Source: BBC)