Chemical weapons watchdog probes Syria attacks
AMSTERDAM: The world’s chemical weapons watchdog has opened an investigation into attacks in Syria’s opposition-held Eastern Ghouta to determine whether banned munitions had been used, diplomatic sources told Reuters.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will examine attacks including one on Sunday, which health authorities said killed a child and caused symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine gas, the sources said.
Political leaders in France, the US and UK said this month they would back targeted military action against Damascus if there were proof chemical weapons had been used by forces under President Bashar Assad.
The investigation by the OPCW fact-finding team comes as Syrian warplanes continued to strike Eastern Ghouta on Tuesday, despite a Russian call for a five-hour daily truce to allow the 400,000 people living there under siege to leave.
The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not permitted to discuss the operation in public.
Use of chlorine as a chemical weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns into hydrochloric acid in the lungs and the build-up of fluids can drown victims.
The latest OPCW mission is seeking to determine whether chemical weapons were used in violation of the international weapons convention, which Syria signed in 2013 after hundreds died in a massive sarin gas attack in Ghouta.
The OPCW will not assign blame. “OPCW’s technical secretariat continues to examine all credible allegations of chemical weapons use, reported by media or other sources, including the most recent allegations,” it said when asked about the investigation into the Ghouta attacks.
The OPCW team does not plan to travel to Ghouta because of safety concerns - two visits by inspectors in 2013 and 2014 were ambushed - but will gather witness testimony, photographic and video evidence, and interview medical experts, the sources said.