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.

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