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Watchdog accuses Syria of 2018 chemical attack

The global chemical weapons watchdog on Friday blamed Syria for the deaths of 43 people in a chlorine attack in 2018 in a long-awaited report on the incident that sparked tensions between Damascus and the West.

Investigators said they had “reasonable grounds to believe” that at least one Syrian Air Force helicopter dropped two cylinders of toxic gas on the rebel-held town of Douma during the Syrian civil war. .

“The world now knows the facts,” Fernando Arias, director of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), said in a statement. “It is now up to the international community to take action.”

Damascus and its ally Moscow, which claimed the April 7, 2018 attacks were staged by rescue workers on the orders of the United States, then launched air strikes on Syria along with Britain and France.

The Douma case also sparked controversy after it was leaked by two former employees and accused the Hague-based watchdog of altering its original findings to make them more convincing. .

However, the OPCW said investigators had “considered various possible scenarios” and concluded that “the Syrian Arab Air Force was the perpetrator of this attack.”

Both Western countries have called for Syria to be held accountable for the “horrific” attacks.

“We call on the Russian Federation to stop shielding Syria from accountability for its use of chemical weapons,” said US Secretary of State Anthony Brinken and the British, French and German secretaries of state in a joint statement.

“No disinformation from the Kremlin can hide the hands of the Assad regime.”

– “Toxic gas” –

The watchdog said Syrian “elite” forces known as Tiger Force launched attacks during the military offensive to retake Douma, and Islamist rebels agreed to withdraw the next day.

“At least one Mi-8/17 helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force, departing from Dumayr Air Base and operating under Tiger military control, dropped two yellow cylinders,” it said.

The cylinder struck two houses, it said.

The first “exploded, rapidly releasing chlorine, a very high concentration of toxic gas, which quickly spread through the building, killing 43 named individuals and affecting dozens more.” Received,” the report said.

A second cylinder crashed into the apartment, slowly releasing chlorine that “mildly affected those who arrived on the scene first”.

Investigators examined 70 environmental and biomedical samples, 66 eyewitness accounts, and other data including forensic analysis, satellite imagery, gas dispersion modeling and orbital simulations, it said.

“There are reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force was the perpetrator of the chemical weapons attack in Douma,” it said.

“Reasonable cause” is the standard of evidence used by international investigative and fact-finding bodies.

– Foams in the mouth –

Paramedics said they treated people suffering from breathing problems, foamy mouths and other symptoms at the time.

Shortly thereafter, OPCW inspections revealed the use of chlorine, but at the time the watchdog did not have the authority to identify the culprit.

But member states agreed to change the rules in late 2018, despite objections from Syria and Russia, and can now point to responsibility.

The organization also dismissed claims that rebels and paramedics staged the attack by bringing in corpses and fake chlorine cylinders.

The team “has exhaustively pursued a series of investigations and scenarios proposed by the Syrian authorities and other parties, but has been unable to obtain concrete information to support them.”

Russia operated from the same airbase during the attack and operated in “special proximity” with the Tiger forces, but the OPCW had no information that any country other than Syria was involved, it said.

Damascus denies using chemical weapons and claims it handed over stockpiles under a 2013 agreement in the wake of a suspected sarin gas attack that killed 1,400 people in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.

Syria’s voting rights in the OPCW were suspended in 2021 after it refused to cooperate after being accused of further chemical weapons attacks.

https://www.expatica.com/nl/general/watchdog-blames-syria-for-2018-chemical-attack-507219/ Watchdog accuses Syria of 2018 chemical attack

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