News / Middle East

Alleged Chlorine Gas Attacks Focus Renewed Attention on Syria

In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, posted on April 16, 2014, an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, children are seen receiving oxygen in Kfar Zeita
In this image taken from video obtained from the Shaam News Network, posted on April 16, 2014, an anti-Bashar Assad activist group, which has been authenticated based on its contents and other AP reporting, children are seen receiving oxygen in Kfar Zeita
The international organization overseeing the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons is now focusing on investigating possible chlorine gas attacks in that country.
 
If proven, they would add another chapter into Syria’s long history of using chemical substances as weapons.
 
Under Western pressure, Syria has destroyed the vast majority of the chemical weapons arsenal declared by the Damascus government to be 1,300 metric tons.
 
Greg Thielmann, an expert on weapons of mass destruction with the Arms Control Association, said Syria’s arsenal contained different types of chemicals.
 
“They have mustard agent, which is a very old style of chemical weapons, first introduced in World War One. And then even more lethal nerve gas agents that they have like sarin - they have some VX as well," Thielmann said. “And all of those types of chemicals are on a list to be destroyed. In fact, more than 90 percent of those agents have been destroyed or moved out of the country.”
 
International supervision

 
The destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal is supervised by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons - or OPCW - an independent entity that has a working relationship with the United Nations.
 
Last September, Syria agreed to dispose of its chemical weapons after pressure from Russia and the threat of military action from the United States. Syria agreed to destroy all of its chemical weapons by June 30th.
 
The OPCW is also investigating allegations that the Syrian government in April used chlorine gas to attack civilians and rebel forces.
 
The Syrian government has allowed OPCW into the country to investigates but denies culpability. Accounts of the alleged attacks vary with the government and opposition activists each trading blame. The Obama administration blames the Syrian government.

Alleged gas attack
 
Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a foundation focusing on disarmament issues, said “there is a lot of evidence to indicate that Syria is using chlorine gas in these ‘barrel bombs.’
 
“These barrels are stuffed with explosives and nails and shrapnel, and then dumped, pushed out of airplanes pushed out of helicopters into what are considered to be rebel strongholds or in many cases schools, hospitals, civilian facilities,” he said. “There seems to be evidence that in a dozen, maybe even two dozen incidences, chlorine gas has been mixed in.”
 
But Ralf Trapp, a chemical weapons expert and former OPCW official, said there is no conclusive proof that the Syrian government used chlorine gas.
 
“We cannot at this point in time rule out categorically that it may not have been some operation that was put up to pretend that there was a chlorine attack when in fact there wasn’t one - or there was one, but from the other side,” he said. “So there are a number of questions that need to be asked at this point in time. The OPCW is investigating and I think it would be prudent to wait until we have some more details and more information about what actually happened on the ground before we can draw conclusions.”
 
The OPCW was forced to temporarily halt its initial fact-finding trip after its convoy came under attack. The Syrian government and the rebels blamed each other for the assault.
 
Chlorine not on prohibited list
 
Trapp said chlorine is not on the list of prohibited toxic chemicals by the Chemical Weapons Convention because it is a common industrial, albeit  toxic, chemical. 
 
“Chlorine is a chemical that is in very wide legitimate use - it’s used for water purification. It’s used in industry and for bleaching purposes - a whole range of uses and in very large quantities. So the accessibility to that material is very large,” Trapp said.
 
But Charles Duelfer who headed the Iraqi Survey Group investigating the extent of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction after the 2003 invasion, said if in fact  "The government of Syria deployed chlorine as a weapon, [it] is not that they have chlorine, it is that they would use it as a weapon,” Duelfer said. “So it’s not a trivial instance but it is not something that is on the same magnitude as the chemical munitions which are being destroyed at this point in time.”
 
Experts said if it is proven that Syria used chlorine as a weapon, Damascus would be in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention which it signed last September.
 
Alleged Chlorine Gas Attacks Focus Renewed Attention on Syria
Alleged Chlorine Gas Attacks Focus Renewed Attention on Syria i
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X

Andre de Nesnera

Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

You May Like

African States Push to Keep Boko Haram Offline

Central African telecoms ministers working with Nigeria to block all videos posted by Boko Haram in effort to blunt Nigerian militant group's propaganda More

Falling Oil Prices, Internet-Savvy Youth Pose Challenge for Gulf Monarchies

Across the Gulf, younger generations are putting a strain on traditional politics More

Philippines Call Center Workers Face Challenges

Country has world’s largest business process outsourcing, or BPO, industry, employing some one-million workers 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.
US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Casei
X
Katherine Gypson
February 25, 2015 11:30 PM
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video US Supreme Court Hears Hijab Discrimination Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has heard opening arguments in a workplace religious discrimination case that examines whether a clothing store can refuse to hire a young woman for wearing the headscarf she says is a symbol of her Muslim faith. Katherine Gypson reports from the Supreme Court.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Hurt Nascent Illinois Hydraulic Fracturing Industry

Falling oil prices are helping consumers purchase cheaper petroleum at the pump. But that’s made hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” less economically viable for the companies in the United States invested in the process. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports on one Midwestern town that was hoping to change its fortunes by cashing in on the next big U.S. oil boom.
Video

Video Fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan Fuels Mass Displacement

Heavy fighting in Sudan's South Kordofan state is causing hundreds of thousands to flee into uncertain conditions. Local aid organizations estimate as many as 400,000 civilians have been internally displaced since the conflict began more than three years ago, while another 250,000 have fled across the border to refugee camps in South Sudan. VOA's Adam Bailes reports.
Video

Video Lao Dam Project Runs Into Opposition

A Lao dam project on a section of the Mekong River is drawing opposition from local fishermen, international environmental groups and neighboring countries. VOA's Say Mony visited the region to investigate the concerns. Colin Lovett narrates.
Video

Video A Filmmaker Discovers Her Biracial Identity in "Little White Lie

Lacey Schwartz grew up in an upper middle-class Jewish family, in a town in upstate New York where almost everyone she knew was white. She assumed that she was, as well. Her recent documentary, Little White Lie, tells the story of how she uncovered the secret of her true racial background. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more on the film.
Video

Video Deep Under Antarctic Ice Sheet, Life!

With the end of summer in the Southern hemisphere, the Antarctic research season is over. Scientists from Northern Illinois University are back in their laboratory after a 3-month expedition on the Ross Ice Shelf, the world’s largest floating ice sheet. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, they hope to find clues to explain the dynamics of the rapidly melting ice and its impact on sea level rise.
Video

Video US-Cuba Normalization Talks Resume Friday

Negotiations aimed at normalizing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba resume Friday. On the table: lifting a half-century trade embargo and easing banking and travel restrictions. There's opposition in Congress, but some analysts say there may be sufficient political and economic incentives in both nations for a potential breakthrough this year. VOA's Mil Arcega reports.
Video

Video Pakistan's Deadline For SIM Registration Has Cellphone Users Scrambling

Pakistani cell phone users have until midnight Thursday to register their SIM cards, or their service will be cut off. While some privacy experts worry about government intrusion, many Pakistanis are just worried about keeping their phone lines open. VOA Deewa reporter Arshad Muhmand has more from Peshawar.
Video

Video Myanmar Warns Factory Workers to End Strikes

Outside Myanmar's main city Yangon, thousands of workers walked off their jobs earlier this month demanding a doubling of their wages, pay raises after a year and input from labor unions on industrial regulations. Since Friday, the standoff has grown more tense as police moved in to disrupt the sit-ins, resulting in clashes that injured people from both sides. VOA correspondent Steve Herman visited industrial zones which have become a focus of Myanmar's fledgling workers rights movement.
Video

Video Oscar Winners Do More Than Thank the Academy

The Academy Awards presentation is Hollywood’s night to reward the best movies from the previous year. It’s typically a lot of glitter, a lot of thank you’s, a lot of speeches. But many of this year’s speeches carried messages beyond the thank you's. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti takes a look.

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