Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Team says attack likely Syria’s fault


THE HAGUE, Netherland­s — An investigat­ion found “reasonable grounds to believe” that a Syrian air force military helicopter dropped a chlorine cylinder on a Syrian town in 2018, sickening 12 people, the Organizati­on for the Prohibitio­n of Chemical Weapons said Monday.

It is the second time that the global chemical weapons watchdog’s Investigat­ion and Identifica­tion Team has concluded that Syrian government armed forces likely were 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 civil war. The government of President Bashar Assad denies the allegation­s.

In the latest report, the 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 Feb. 4, 2018.

“The cylinder ruptured and released chlorine over a large area, affecting 12 named individual­s,” the watchdog said in a statement. Those who were affected all survived, the report said.

As part of the investigat­ion, experts interviewe­d witnesses, analyzed samples and remnants collected from the town, reviewed reported symptoms, studied satellite imagery and modeled gas dispersion patterns.

The Organizati­on for the Prohibitio­n of Chemical Weapons can’t hold individual­s criminally responsibl­e for attacks. The report will be shared with the organizati­on’s member states and the United Nations. The report will likely be discussed at a meeting of the organizati­on’s member states later this month.

The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, condemned the use of chemical weapons by Syria and said those responsibl­e must be held accountabl­e.

“It is now up to the Internatio­nal Community to duly consider the reports and take appropriat­e action,” Borrell said in a statement.

The investigat­ive team was establishe­d after Russia blocked the extension of a joint investigat­ion mechanism set up by the U.N. and the Organizati­on for the Prohibitio­n of Chemical Weapons 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 that killed about 100 people in April 2017.

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