Chemical weapons watchdog says Syrian regime gassed its people

Chemical weapons watchdog says Syrian regime gassed its people
Chemical weapons watchdog says Syrian regime gassed its people

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - Syrian President Bashar Al Assad's air force attacked a rebel town with sarin and chlorine in 2017, the world's chemical weapon's watchdog said, in its most direct report blaming the regime of gassing its own people.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that on three occasions, between 24 and 30 March 2017, the regime's airforce dropped sarin and chlorine on Ltamenah in Hama province, "affecting at least" 106 people. The town later fell to the regime.

Santiago Onate-Laborde, coordinator of the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team, said the attacks "would have only taken place on the basis of orders from the higher authorities of the Syrian Arab Republic military command."

The first attack on 24 March, 2017, and the last attack on 30 March of the same year were carried out by a Sukhoi Su-22 plane from the 50th Brigade of the 22nd Air Force Division. On both occasions, the plane dropped two M4000 aerial bombs containing sarin on southern Ltamenah, the report said.

On March 25, 2017 a regime helicopter dropped a cylinder on the Ltamenah hospital, which "broke into the hospital through its roof, ruptured, and released chlorine," the OPCW said.

The Syria Campaign, a grassroots group campaigning for a democratic Syria said the report comprised "independent irrefutable proof that Assad gassed civilians."

"The next step must of course be justice for all those who were killed by the Syrian regime," the Syria Campaign said in a statement.

Almost two years ago, the Hague-based body confirmed that sarin and chlorine were used in two attacks in Ltamenah. At the time it did not name those responsible but the United Nations asked the organisation in 2018 to "put in place arrangements to identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons" in Syria.

Another deadly sarin assault took place on April 4, 2018 in Khan Sheikoun, in Idlib province, killing more than 80 people.

Khan Sheikhoun was a centre of non-violent resistance against Mr Al Assad’s rule before the Syrian uprising turned into a large-scale armed rebellion in 2012.

The first large-scale use of chemical weapons in the civil war occurred in the rebel region of Eastern Ghouta near Damascus, leading to US threats to strike Mr Al Assad's forces and an eventual deal to strip the regime of its chemical weapons. Washington said up to 1,800 civilians were killed in the Eastern Ghouta attack.

Victims of the multiple chemical weapons attacks in Syria since 2013 have been overwhelmingly among the country's majority Sunni population. The regime's military, as well as the ruling elite, are dominated by members of the Alawite sect, which Mr Al Assad belongs to.

OPCW head Fernando Arias said the organisation is not a "judicial or quasi-judicial body with the authority to assign individual criminal responsibility."

"It is now up to the Executive Council and the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the United Nations Secretary-General, and the international community as a whole to take any further action they deem appropriate and necessary,” he said.

Updated: April 8, 2020 08:03 PM

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