News / Middle East

Sources: Chemical Weapons Watchdog Weighs Chlorine Attack Probe in Syria

A woman affected by what activists say was a gas attack on the town of Telminnes breathes through an oxygen mask at Bab al-Hawa hospital, in Syria, April 21, 2014.
A woman affected by what activists say was a gas attack on the town of Telminnes breathes through an oxygen mask at Bab al-Hawa hospital, in Syria, April 21, 2014.
Reuters
The head of the global chemical weapons watchdog overseeing the destruction of Syria's toxic stockpile is considering launching a fact-finding mission on his own initiative to investigate reports of chlorine gas attacks there, sources said.

Syria became a member of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons [OPCW] last year as part of a deal with Russia and the United States to destroy its chemical weapons program.

OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu has the authority to launch an investigation into alleged use of chemical weapons in member states, including Syria, without the need to seek a formal request from a member state, sources told Reuters on Thursday.

“The OPCW director general is considering, on his own initiative, sending a fact-finding mission,” one source said.

“A number of questions are still to be answered: Syrian consent, mandate of the mission, participants from other organizations, such as the World Health Organization,” the source said.

OPCW spokesman Michael Luhan declined to comment.

Several of Washington's key European allies, including Germany and France, support an investigation into the latest claims of chlorine gas use, the sources said.

“The indications of the use of chlorine on 11-13 April in Hama province are particularly concerning,” a British official said on Thursday.

“We think there needs to be an investigation of recent reports of the use of chemical weapons including chlorine, and we are working with others in the international community to establish how that should be done.”

Syria has vowed to hand over or destroy its entire arsenal by the end of this week. It still has roughly 7.5 percent of the chemicals it declared to the OPCW, and it has not yet destroyed all of a dozen production and storage facilities.

Cooperation from Syria and other international organizations would need to be arranged to provide security because of the country's ongoing civil war, which has left 130,000 dead and forced millions more from their homes.

'What are we good for?'

Washington and its Western allies have blamed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces for using sarin gas in an attack in August that killed hundreds of people in the outskirts of Damascus. Assad has blamed the rebels.

A U.N.-led inquiry found that chemical weapons likely were used in five attacks in 2013, although it did not apportion blame. The nerve agent sarin was probably used in four of the five attacks, it found.

Chlorine, which was first used as a weapon in World War I, is believed to have been used in attacks in several areas of Syria this month.

All of the attacks shared the same characteristics, leading analysts to believe they are part of a coordinated campaign, in which barrels of the toxic chemical have been dropped from helicopters.

Rebels have posted photos and video footage they claim show the latest attacks are also the work of forces under Assad.

“The convention forbids the use of toxic chemicals in warfare,” another source at the OPCW said. “If we close our eyes to any alleged use, we should be asking ourselves: what are we good for?”

Baseless allegations

Syria's Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Meqdad said the charges against the Syrian government forces were intended “to overshadow the achievements made by Syria” in ending its chemical weapons program.

As part of the agreement that averted U.S. military strikes last year, Damascus has until June 30 to destroy all chemical weapons, and their production and storage facilities.

Meqdad “refuted as baseless the allegation made by the U.S., France and Israel on using toxic materials by the Syrian Arab Army in any of the Syrian territories”, a statement said.

Syria's remaining stockpile of declared chemical weapons are in more than a dozen lorry containers, in a location near Damascus that the government has said was unreachable due to fighting.

The OPCW enforces adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires members to declare all chemical stocks to the organization, which won the Nobel Peace prize last year.

On Thursday, the joint U.N.-OPCW mission to Syria said the total of chemical material removed and destroyed in country had reached 92.5 percent of the 1,300 metric tons Damascus reported.

“I welcome the significant progress of the last three weeks, and I strongly encourage the Syrian authorities to conclude the removal operations as part of their efforts to achieve the 30 June, 2014, deadline,” mission chief Sigrid Kaag said.

Syria has not declared either the sarin, munitions used in last year's attack, or chlorine, officials said. If it had them, they should be reported to the OPCW.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Monday that Washington had indications that chlorine was probably used by government forces in Syria and said an investigation was needed.

Even if Syria meets the June 30 deadline and abandons its decades-old chemical weapons program, the OPCW's work there will not be finished, one diplomat said. “If anyone pats themselves on the back and says this is over, they will be fooling themselves.”

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid