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.
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

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
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.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs