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UN, chemical weapons watchdog group blame Syrian government for third gas attack

The UN and a chemical weapons watchdog group have determined the Syrian government used chlorine gas in 2015. It is the third attack for which the Syrian government has been blamed.

After a 13-month-long inquiry, the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) have blamed the Syrian government for a toxic gas attack in Qmenas on March 16, 2015.

It was the fourth report from the two organizations on gas attacks in Syria, and it was presented to the UN Security Council in New York on Friday.

The inquiry looked at nine attacks in seven areas of Syria. A separate OPCW investigation determined that chemical weapons were likely to have been used in multiple attacks. Eight of the attacks investigated involved the use of chlorine. A conclusion was reached in only three cases.

It is the second report concluding the Syrian government was responsible for using chemical weapons in the civil war. In an earlier report, in August, Syrian government forces were accused of carrying out two chlorine attacks: one in Talmenes on April 21, 2014, and one in Sarmin on March 16, 2015. Friday's report cited the third attack. 

Unsure of individuals involved

The report submitted on Friday noted the Syrian government used helicopters to drop barrel bombs that released chlorine gas. The helicopters came from two bases where the 253 and 255 squadrons belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade, were based.

The inquiry could not confirm who was in control of the helicopters during the attack, but said those "with effective control in the military units…must be held accountable."

Syrien Aleppo Opfer von Chlorgas Angriff (picture-alliance/AA/I. Ebu Leys)

A girl recovers in a hospital after a suspected chlorine gas attack in Aleppo in September.

Showdown in the Security Council

Friday's report set the stage for a pivotal debate between the five veto-wielding powers over who should be held responsible. Russia, which backs the Syrian government, will likely work with China against the United States, Great Britain and France on the outcome.

Russia previously said the conclusions of the report in August could not be used to impose UN sanctions.

Use of chlorine banned

The use of chlorine as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 in a deal negotiated with Russia and the United States. The United Nations Security Council approved the deal and included a resolution that it could enforce sanctions or use military force in case of a breach.

If chlorine gas is inhaled, it becomes hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can cause death by burning, allowing other body fluids to enter and drown the victim. Chlorine gas also causes blurred vision, breathing difficulties and blisters on the skin.

kbd/jm (AFP, Reuters)

Watch video 03:15

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