Daily Sabah (Turkey)

Assad’s chemical weapons use no surprise: US

- ANKARA / DAILY SABAH

A GLOBAL chemical weapon watchdog’s confirmati­on of the Bashar Assad regime’s use of chlorine gas in a 2018 attack on an opposition region should not come as a surprise, the U.S. State Department stated Wednesday.

“The Assad regime is responsibl­e for innumerabl­e atrocities, some of which rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity,” spokespers­on Ned Price said in a statement.

“These well-documented atrocities include the use of chemical weapons, and this most recent report follows the first from IIT last year that attributed three other chemical weapon attacks to the Assad regime,” he added, referring to the Organisati­on for the Prohibitio­n of Chemical Weapons’ (OPCW) Investigat­ion and Identifica­tion Team (IIT). It was the second time the OPCW’s Investigat­ion and Identifica­tion Team has concluded that Syrian regime armed forces were likely responsibl­e for a gas attack. Last year, the team also found reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Air Force was responsibl­e for attacks using chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in March 2017 in the town of Latamneh.

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 opposition-held northern Syrian town of Saraqib on Feb. 4, 2018, making 12 people sick.

Syria has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons during the country’s grizzly civil war. Yet, the regime once again denies the accusation­s. Syria on Wednesday angrily rejected the global watchdog’s report, dismissing the charge as “fabricated.”

In a statement carried by the state-run Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA), Syria’s foreign ministry condemned the report “in the strongest terms.” It said Damascus “categorica­lly denies its use of poison gas in the town of Saraqib or any other Syrian town or village.” The report by “the so-called ‘identifica­tion and investigat­ion team’ on the alleged incident in Saraqib ... contains unfounded and fabricated conclusion­s,” it said.

The OPCW investigat­ors interviewe­d 30 witnesses, analyzed samples collected at the scene, reviewed symptoms reported by victims and medical staff, and examined satellite imagery to reach their conclusion­s, The Hague-based organizati­on said.

Symptoms “included shortness of breath, skin irritation, chest pain and coughing,” the report said.

However, it added that it “regrets” the Syrian regime refused to grant access to the site, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Aleppo, despite repeated requests.

The OPCW can’t hold individual­s criminally responsibl­e for attacks.

The investigat­ive team was establishe­d after Russia blocked the extension of a joint investigat­ion mechanism set up by the U.N. and the 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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