Damascus: The international body tasked with destroying Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal says it has not been asked to investigate new opposition claims that regime troops have used banned chemicals on rebel groups in at least three attacks since January.
The Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it would need a referral from a state signatory to a treaty banning the use of such weapons before looking at the new allegations, which come amid a protracted withdrawal of Syria’s 1,200 tonnes of sarin, mustard gas and the precursors used to make them.
A senior Israeli defence official said earlier this week that new chemical attacks had taken place in the Damascus countryside. The claim supported complaints by rebel groups in Harasta that at least three people had been killed in late March, with several dozen more taken ill, after shells landing near them discharged noxious fumes.
Israel concluded the effects were not caused by sarin or mustard gas. It said an industrial-strength substance, such as a pesticide, could have been to blame. Britain has also said it is investigating the claims.
The Syrian opposition leadership yesterday repeated a demand that the claims be examined, but as a non-state actor has no sway over the OPCW, which has so far supervised the surrender of 53 percent of Syria’s arsenal.
Monzer Akbik, a senior opposition official, said: “The regime repeatedly uses chemical weapons on Syrian civilians, so many can testify to this. And with the regime way behind on resolution 2118 on chemical weapons removal, and constantly violating humanitarian resolution 2139 with its barrel bombs and starvation campaigns, it is time for the international community to start taking seriously their responsibility to protect Syrian civilians.”
The use of chemical weapons has been one of the most contentious aspects of the Syrian war. A devastating attack in the Damascus countryside last August left up to 1,300 people dead and pushed the US close a military strike against the Assad regime, which was strongly suspected of being responsible.
The strike was averted after Russia brokered a deal for Bashar Al Assad, the Syrian leader, to surrender chemical weapons, the existence of which had until then been a closely guarded secret. The OPCW was then tasked with handling the transfer of the chemicals to ships now moored in the port of Latakia in Syria’s northwest. The chemicals will be transferred to ships with specialised facilities that will render them safe for disposal.
UN officials said the chemical compound of the sarin used in the mass attack matched that of the supply held by the Syrian regime.