U.S. is increasingly concerned about reports of chemical-weapons use against civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo
By Nick Wadhams
The U.S. is increasingly concerned about reports of chemical-weapons use against civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo, State Department spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau said.
Trudeau was responding to a question about reports from Syrian opposition groups that at least two people were killed in a government airstrike using chlorine gas in Aleppo on Aug 10. Trudeau said the U.S. couldn’t confirm the report, while Syrian military officials have denied the claim.
“We are looking into reports of chemical weapons being used against civilians in Aleppo,” Trudeau told reporters Thursday. ‘We’ve noted the trend, we’re increasingly concerned about it, we continue to gather information about it. It’s something we’re monitoring very closely.”
© AFP/File | In the past two years there have been numerous allegations of chemical weapons being used against civilians in Syria, both by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the rebels trying to oust him
Amnesty International called the airstrike the third chlorine attack in the last two weeks in Syria. Amnesty researcher Diana Semaan told AP Television that a doctor received 60 people who had been exposed in the alleged attack.
Syria has been repeatedly accused of using chlorine in attacks in the three years since it agreed to dismantle its chemical-weapons program and turned over the last of its stockpiles in 2014. That deal didn’t bar Syria from keeping chlorine, a chemical commonly used for purposes such as water purification, although its use in attacks is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Chemical weapons attacks in Syria may normalise war crimes, experts warn
A woman and two children have been killed and dozens injured in an alleged chlorine gas attack in Aleppo, doctors have said, as experts warned that the frequent use of chemical weapons in Syria risks normalising war crimes.
There have been dozens of attacks with chlorine gas since Syria officially agreed to give up its weapons stockpile following a 2013 sarin gas assault on a Damascus suburb, rights groups and doctors on the ground said.
The latest reports came as Russia offered to halt fighting for three hours a day to allow aid into besieged parts of the city, but the UN countered by saying it needed at least 48 hours a week to take convoys through heavily bombed and mined roads into eastern Aleppo.
There are still 1.5 million people living in Aleppo, the city that was Syria’s largest before the civil war and is now at the heart of the brutal battle for its future. About 300,000 civilians in rebel-held areas are at grave risk from water shortages and disease as fighting has intensified, said the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura.
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Asked about the chemical attack on the Aleppo district of Zubdiya, he said there was a lot of evidence that it took placeand it would constitute a war crime if chlorine gas was used, but he added that it was not his remit to verify the attack. “If it did take place, it is a war crime and as such it would require everyone … to address it immediately,” he said.
Last week, doctors in the neighbouring province of Idlib said they had treated more than two dozen patients following a suspected chlorine attack on the town of Saraqeb.
The challenge of verifying the use of chemical weapons in a war zone, particularly chlorine – which disperses rapidly and does not leave a unique chemical trace when used as a weapon – has hampered efforts to track their use.
However, a global chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said it was confident that chlorine gas had been used as a weapon in past incidents.
It did not apportion blame but its a report into one attack that resulted in 13 deaths said 32 of the 37 people interviewed “saw or heard the sound of a helicopter over the village at the time of the attack with barrel bombs containing toxic chemicals”. The US ambassador to the UN, Samantha Power, tweeted in response that “only Syrian regime uses [helicopters]”.
The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons. Since the US president, Barack Obama, stepped back from enforcing his “red line” on their use, attacks have drawn nothing more than public condemnation from western leaders.
Although most recent attacks have been relatively small, the toll of dead and maimed civilians and activists is mounting and experts are concerned that the use of chemical weapons is no longer as shocking as it was a few years ago.
“There is certainly a huge risk of normalising [the use of chemical weapons],” said Richard Guthrie, a British chemical weapons expert who has raised concerns about the wider impacts of Syria’s continued use of toxins as weapons.
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