Watchdog confirms
chlorine gas attacks

A Syrian army helicopter flies over the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP PHOTO / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA)

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons stated “with a high degree of confidence” that chlorine gas was used last year against a number of rebel-controlled villages in Syria, killing 13 people and affecting up to 500.


The third report by the group stated that a fact-finding mission had found that a significant majority of witnesses interviewed “saw or heard the sound of a helicopter over the village at the time of the attack with barrel bombs containing toxic chemicals,” according to a report by the Associated Press.


The OPCW did not state who was responsible for the attack, but the Assad regime is the only belligerent known to operate helicopters. US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Powers commented on the new report via her Twitter account.


“Latest OPCW report: 32 witnesses saw or heard sound of helicopters as bombs struck; 29 smelled chlorine. Only Syrian regime uses helos [helicopters].”


The report was discussed by the Security Council on Tuesday, according to AP, with the US and other Western nations urging a response from the UN body.


“UNSC met on Syria CW today and reviewed more compelling eyewitness evidence of chlorine gas use by Syrian regime,” tweeted Power.


“Regime must be shown it is not enough to destroy declared CW; must stop dropping chemical-laden explosives on civilians.”


Further action from the Security Council was countered by Russia, an ally of the Assad regime, which contended that the matter was an issue for the OPCW alone, according to AP. Russia has a permanent seat on the UN body, and can veto resolutions.


The mission began in April after pressure from France and the US, and investigated attacks in the villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah, and Kafr Zita. Its members came under attack during the investigation and some were kidnapped in May, but were later released.


Human Rights Watch concluded in May that the regime was responsible for the attacks. "Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in northern Syria in mid-April 2014," the group said in statement quoted by AFP.


Chlorine gas is used in industrial processes and is not illegal, though its use as a weapon is banned. In September US Secretary of State John Kerry asserted that the Assad regime was using it in weapons. 


"We believe there is evidence of Assad's use of chlorine, which when you use it - despite it not being on the list - it is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention," Kerry told Congress, according to AFP.


Syria signed the Chemical Weapons Convention as part of a Russia-brokered deal to dispose of its chemical weapons.


The deal averted the threat of US air strikes on the Assad regime in September 2013, after a sarin gas attack killed 1,300 people in eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus.

A Syrian army helicopter flies over the northern city of Aleppo. (AFP PHOTO / TAUSEEF MUSTAFA)

Only [the] Syrian regime uses helos.