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 In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

Ninety percent of homes in one small village were damaged or destroyed as government forces failed to stop a rebel advance More

Pakistan’s 'Last Self-Declared Jew' Attacked, Detained

Argument about the rights of non-Muslims in Pakistan allegedly results in mob beating well-known Jewish Pakistani More

Turkey Cracks Down on Political Dissent, Again

People daring to engage in political dissent ahead of upcoming general elections could find themselves in jail 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.
In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobanii
X
Mahmoud Bali
March 06, 2015 8:43 PM
Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Their Own Words: Citizens of Kobani

Civilians are slowly returning to Kobani, after Kurdish fighters backed by coalition airstrikes fought off a four-month siege of the northern Syrian town by Islamic State militants. VOA Kurdish Service reporter Mahmoud Bali talked to some of those who have returned. We hear about the devastation of Kobani through their own words.
Video

Video In Ukraine's Nikishino, No House Untouched by Fighting

In the village of Nikishino, in eastern Ukraine, recent fighting has brought utter devastation. Ninety percent of the houses are damaged or destroyed after government forces tried and failed to stop rebels advancing on the strategically important town of Debaltseve nearby. Patrick Wells reports for VOA from Nikishino.
Video

Video Crime Scenes Re-Created in 3-D Visualization

Police and prosecutors sometimes resort to re-creations of crime scenes in order to better understand the interaction of all participants in complicated cases. A Swiss institute says advanced virtual reality technology can be used for quality re-creations of events at the moment of the crime. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Sierra Leone Ebola Orphans Face Another Crisis

There's growing concern about the future of an orphanage run by a British charity in Sierra Leone, after a staff member and his wife died this week from Ebola. The Saint George Foundation Orphanage in Freetown is now in quarantine, with more than 20 children and seven staff in lock-down. The BBC has agreed to share Ebola-related material with Voice of America because of the difficulties faced by media organizations reporting the crisis. Clive Myrie reports from Sierra Leone.
Video

Video Growing Concerns Over Whether Myanmar’s Next Elections Will Be Fair

Myanmar has scheduled national elections for November that are also expected to include a landmark referendum on the country's constitution. But there are growing concerns over whether the government is taking the necessary steps to prepare for a free and fair vote. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman was recently in Myanmar and files this report from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok.
Video

Video Nigeria’s Ogonis Divided Over Resuming Oil Production

More than two decades ago, Nigeria’s Ogoni people forced Shell oil company to cease drilling on their land, saying it was polluting the environment. Now, some Ogonis say it’s time for the oil to flow once again. Chris Stein reports from Kegbara Dere, Nigeria.
Video

Video Fuel Shortages in Nigeria Threaten Election Campaigns

Nigeria is suffering a gas shortage as the falling oil price has affected the country’s ability to import and distribute refined fuels. Coming just weeks before scheduled March 28 elections, the shortage could have a big impact on the campaign, as Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA.
Video

Video Report: Human Rights in Annexed Crimea Deteriorating

A new report by Freedom House and the Atlantic Council of the United States says the human rights situation in Crimea has deteriorated since the peninsula was annexed by Russia in March of last year. The report says the new authorities in Crimea are discriminating against minorities, suppressing freedom of expression, and forcing residents to assume Russian citizenship or leave. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video 50 Years Later African-Americans See New Voting Rights Battles Ahead

Thousands of people will gather to mark the 50th anniversary of a historic civil rights march on March 7th in Selma, Alabama. In 1965, dozens of people were seriously injured during the event known as “Bloody Sunday,” after police attacked African-American demonstrators demanding voting rights. VOA’s Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights pioneers who are still fighting for voting rights in Alabama more than 50 years later.
Video

Video Craft Brewers Taking Hold in US Beer Market

Since the 1950’s, the U.S. beer industry has been dominated by a handful of huge breweries. But in recent years, the rapid rise of small craft breweries has changed the American market and, arguably, the way people drink beer. VOA’s Jeff Custer reports.
Video

Video Video Claims to Show Shia Forces in Iraq Executing Sunni Boy

A graphic mobile phone video is spreading on the Internet, claiming to show Iraqi forces or Shia militia executing a handcuffed Sunni boy. Experts have yet to verify the video, but already Islamic State followers are publicizing it across social media, playing on deep-rooted sectarian fears. VOA’s Jeff Seldin reports.
Video

Video Ukrainian Authorities Struggle to Secure a Divided Mariupol

Since last month's cease-fire went into effect, shelling around the port city of Mariupol has decreased, but it is thought pro-Russian separatists remain poised to attack. For the city’s authorities, a major challenge is gaining the trust of residents, while at the same time rooting out informants who are passing sensitive information to the rebels. Patrick Wells reports for VOA.

All About America

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More