OPCW blames Damascus for a 2018 chemical attack

The international body found that at least one chlorine bomb was dropped on the city of Saraqeb, intoxicating 12 people. The government claims the rebels staged the attack.

Damascus (AsiaNews/Agencies) – A team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) found "reasonable grounds to believe" that on 4 February 20218, the Syrian air force dropped at least one chlorine bomb on Saraqeb, a rebel-held city in the north-western part of the country.

The report by the  Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) follows a visit it conducted at the scene of the alleged attack. The chlorine released by a Syrian helicopter intoxicated 12 people.

To reach their conclusion, OPCW investigators interviewed witnesses, analysed samples collected at the site, examined imagery, and spoke to experts.

The victims, rescuers and medical staff reported symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, skin irritation, and chest pain, which toxicologists consider consistent with exposure to toxic gases such as chlorin.

The Syrian military has always denied using of chemical weapons. When questioned by the OPCW, Syrian officials blamed rescue workers and jihadist fighters, claiming that the latter brought chlorine-filled cylinders to the area to stage a gas attack. The ITT found no concrete evidence to back such claims.

This is not the first time that chemical weapons have been used in the Syrian conflict. Since 2013, the government and rebels have accused each other in connection with a number of attacks with chemical agents.

Sources close to the opposition to Bashar al-Assad have released images purported to show such attacks. The UN confirmed claims that government forces used chlorine bombs and sarin gas in the city of Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017.

After Russia vetoed a resolution to extend the mandate of a joint UN-OPCW mission, the latter, which is an intergovernmental organisation and the implementing body for the Chemical Weapons Convention, continued its investigation into disputed incidents.