The chemical weapons watchdog OPCW said sarin was used in an attack on a northern Syrian town five days before the banned nerve agent killed dozens in Khan Sheikhoun, prompting global outrage.
An inquiry by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has found that sarin nerve agent was used in an airstrike on the northern Syrian town of Latamneh on March 30 that injured more than 50 people, who suffered nausea, foaming at the mouth and muscle spasms.
"Analysis of samples collected [by the OPCW]... relates to an incident that took place again in the northern part of Syria on the 30th of March this year," OPCW Chief Ahmet Uzumcu said. "The results prove the existence of sarin."
Uzumcu said the OPCW's fact-finding mission had retrieved soil samples, clothing and metal parts, which were sent for testing.
The latest finding proves wrong earlier claims that the Khan Sheikhoun attack on April 4 was the first use of the banned nerve agent since the deadly August 2013 attack in and around Damascus that killed hundreds of people.
At least 87 people including 30 children died in the attack on Khan Sheikhoun, in the opposition-held Idlib province. The attack caused global outrage and prompted the United States to launch missiles on a Syrian airbase.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has denied using chemical weapons in the 6-year civil war and claims it no longer possesses chemical arsenal in compliance with a 2013 agreement brokered by Russia and the United States.
Khan Sheikhoun attack in April was previously believed to be the first use of sarin in Syria since 2013
'Troubling to say the least'
The UN Security Council met behind closed doors in New York on Wednesday to discuss the use of chemical weapons in Syria and ongoing investigations by the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), a joint United Nations and OPCW panel set up to identify perpetrators of such attacks.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said the council was awaiting details of the Latamneh attack but said the new information was "very troubling to say the least."
The JIM is due to submit its report on the Khan Sheikhun attack later this month.
The JIM's mandate is coming up for renewal in mid-November. But there are fears that Syrian government ally Russia, which has questioned the work of the inquiry, may not support extending its term.
"Renewing the U.N. Joint Investigative Mechanism now should be the Security Council's top priority," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said in a statement on Wednesday.
"We owe it to the innocent people - including children – who have suffered and died at the hands of the Syrian regime to continue to push for full accountability for these horrific crimes," she said.
ap/sms (Reuters, AFP)