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Syria's Assad forces accused of chemical weapons

April 9, 2020

A team of special investigators from a global watchdog has said the Damascus government air forces deployed chemical weapons in western Syria, including on a hospital. The Russia-backed regime denied the claims.

A Syrian forces Sukhoi Su-22 flies over the rebel-held besieged town of Arbin
Image: Getty Images/AFP/A. Almohibany

President Bashar al-Assad's military regime likely used chemical weapons in an illegal attack in Syria, the Hague-based Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported on Wednesday.

There were "reasonable grounds" to believe that the the 50th Brigade of the 22nd Air Division of the Syrian Air Force flying Russian Sukhoi Su-22 military jets and a helicopter dropped M4000 aerial bombs containing sarin nerve gas on a town, as well as a cylinder containing toxic chlorine on a hospital, investigators of a special unit of the OPCW said in a report.

Read more: Syria prison riot highlights Kurdish forces' struggle with IS combatants

The chemical attacks, conducted from the Sharat and Hama airbases, took place in the then rebel-controlled Hama city of Ltamenah in western Syria on March 24, 25, and 30 in 2017, the report said.

"Attacks of such a strategic nature would have only taken place on the basis of orders from the higher authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic military command," investigation coordinator Santiago
Onate-Laborde said.

According to the report, around 100 people were affected by the attacks.

Damascus denies accusations

The OPCW set up the special Investigative and Identification Team (IIT) in 2018 to track down perpetrators of illegal attacks. Until now, the OPCW had only been authorized to identify whether chemical attacks occurred but not who perpetrated them.

Human rights organizations have accused the al-Assad regime of killing numerous people in several chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

Read more: Surviving the war in Syria: Waad al-Kateab's 'For Sama'

Despite Syrian and Russian opposition, the majority of OPCW member states supported the chemical weapons investigation team that was sent to Syria.

The Damascus government, backed by Russia, has consistently rejected the accusations.

The IIT is not a judicial body and therefore it will be up to OPCW's members, the UN Secretary General and the international community to "take any further action they deem appropriate and necessary", OPCW chief Fernando Arias said.

Syria's mission to the United Nations in New York and Moscow's Russian Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comments, Reuters reported.

mvb/rc (dpa, Reuters)

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