Posts Tagged ‘chlorine’

What is Trump’s Syria strategy?

April 14, 2018

By Stanly Johny
The Hindu
April 14, 2018


Syrian government supporters chant slogans against U.S. President Donald Trump during demonstrations following a wave of U.S., British and French military strikes, in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday.Syrian government supporters chant slogans against U.S. President Donald Trump during demonstrations following a wave of U.S., British and French military strikes, in Damascus, Syria, on Saturday.   | Photo Credit: AP

The U.S. faces two major challenges in Syria — it needs to avoid direct confrontation with Russia, and its attacks have lacked a grand strategy.

Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump said the U.S. “will be coming out of Syria very soon.” This Friday, he bombed the country. This leaves one scrambling to understand what the U.S. strategy is in Syria. The latest strike, jointly carried out by the U.S., the U.K. and France, is a retaliation to what they claimed was a chemical attack earlier this month in Douma near Damascus by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The U.S. had carried out a similar missile strike last year after chemical attacks in Khan Shaykhun in Idlib. With Friday’s strikes, the White House could say that the President is serious about his chemical weapons redline — that he would strike Syrian regime targets if chemical weapons continue to be used.


But besides satisfying this threat perception, what did the attack actually achieve? To begin with, even the case for the U.S. strike has been weak and with no legal basis. Mr. Trump ordered the attack a day ahead of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the intergovernmental chemical weapons watchdog, began its investigation in Douma to ascertain if chemical weapons were actually used in the city.

When U.S. Defence Secretary Jim Mattis was asked what proof the U.S. has against the Assad regime over the Douma attack, he said he’s “confident” that the regime had the capability to carry out the chemical strike. He was not certain which type of gas — chlorine or sarin — was used in Douma.



If the U.S. and its Western allies had respect for a rules-based international order and the global institutions, it could have waited till the OPCW wraps up its investigation and then tried to build a consensus in the U.N. Security Council. If the OPCW confirms the use of chemical weapons in Douma, it could at least have busted the Russian claim that the attack was staged.

But Mr. Trump doesn’t appear to have the patience to follow the normal international procedure in dealing with the crisis like this. Instead, he went to war against another sovereign country without a U.N. mandate, flouting international laws again.

This time the U.S. response has been heavier than last April’s. This attack lasted for 70 minutes and more than 120 missiles were fired, twice as many weapons used. The strike also targeted multiple regime facilities in Damascus and Homs. But the attack also suggests that the U.S. options were limited in Syria.

Like last year’s strike, Friday’s attack was also a one-off incident. The Pentagon hopes Mr. Assad may have got the message. And the U.S. has been cautious enough to avoid Russian and even Iranian targets in Syria.

The U.S. faces two major challenges in Syria if it’s determined to take on the Assad regime. One is to avoid direct confrontation with Russia, the main backer of the regime, which has deployed military infrastructure and personnel across Syria. Even the Iranians could target U.S. positions elsewhere in West Asia using Shia militias if Tehran is provoked. The two Syria strikes by the U.S. suggest that Washington doesn’t want an escalation of that level. Nor do the Russians and the Iranians.

Before the strike, Moscow had warned of consequences. Still, during the 70 minutes of U.S. operations, Russian firepower remained silent.

Two, the U.S. still appears to be uncertain on how to deal with the Assad regime. It lacks a grand strategy — its responses are largely tactical. Washington doesn’t want the Assad regime to collapse leaving a power vacuum which it fears will be occupied by terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaeda factions. This could be the key reason, besides the Russia factor, that prevents the U.S. from going for an all-out attack on Damascus seeking regime change.

Mr. Trump could claim that he punished the “animal Assad” for using chemical weapons, even at the expense of violating international norms, without really altering the balance of power in the battlefield. Mr. Assad is still winning the war, and the U.S. attacks will make him more dependent on the Russians and the Iranians.


Syrian rescuers, medics say gas attack near capital kills 40

April 8, 2018

The Associated Press

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian opposition activists and rescuers said Sunday that a poison gas attack on a rebel-held town near the capital has killed at least 40 people, allegations denied by the Syrian government.

The alleged attack in the town of Douma occurred late Saturday amid a resumed offensive by Syrian government forces after the collapse of a truce.

The reports could not be independently verified.

Opposition-linked first responders, known as the White Helmets, reported the attack, saying entire families were found suffocated in their homes and shelters. It reported a death toll from suffocation of more than 40, saying the victims showed signs of gas poisoning including pupil dilation and foaming at the mouth. In a statement, however, it reported a smell resembling chlorine, which would not explain the described symptoms, usually associated with sarin gas.

It said around 500 people were treated for suffocation and other symptoms, adding that most medical facilities and ambulances were put out of service because of the shelling.

The Syrian American Medical Society, a relief organization, said 41 people were killed and hundreds wounded.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 80 people were killed in Douma on Saturday, including around 40 who died from suffocation. But it said the suffocations were the result of shelters collapsing on people inside.

Videos posted online by the White Helmets purportedly showed victims, including toddlers in diapers, breathing through oxygen masks at makeshift hospitals.

The Syrian government, in a statement posted on the state-run news agency SANA, strongly denied the allegations. It said the claims were “fabrications” by the Army of Islam rebel group, calling it a “failed attempt” to impede government advances.

“The army, which is advancing rapidly and with determination, does not need to use any kind of chemical agents,” the statement said.

Syrian government forces resumed their offensive on rebel-held Douma on Friday afternoon after a 10-day truce collapsed over disagreement regarding the evacuation of Army of Islam fighters. Violence resumed days after hundreds of opposition fighters and their relatives left Douma toward rebel-held areas in northern Syria. Douma is the last rebel stronghold in eastern Ghouta.

The alleged gas attack in Douma comes almost exactly a year after a chemical attack in the northern Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun killed dozens of people. That attack prompted the U.S. to launch several dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base. President Donald Trump said the attack was meant to deter further Syrian use of illegal weapons.

The Syrian government and its ally, Russia, denied any involvement in the alleged gas attack.

Douma is in the suburbs of Damascus known as eastern Ghouta. A chemical attack in eastern Ghouta in 2013 that was widely blamed on government forces killed hundreds of people, prompting the U.S. to threaten military action before later backing down.

Syria denies ever using chemical weapons during the seven-year civil war, and says it eliminated its chemical arsenal under a 2013 agreement brokered by the U.S. and Russia after the attack in eastern Ghouta.

Related: (Last 24 hours)

Eastern Ghouta: Mattis warns Syria over ‘weaponised gas’

March 11, 2018

BBC News

Shelling in DoumaImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionThe Syrian army says it has completely surrounded the town of Douma, which has been under heavy bombardment

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis has warned Syria it would be “very unwise” to use poison gas in Eastern Ghouta amid reports of chlorine attacks.

Mr Mattis did not say President Trump would take military action, but the US struck Syria last April after a suspected gas attack in northern Syria.

Fierce fighting is continuing and the Syrian army says it has surrounded a major town in the rebel-held enclave.

More than 1,000 civilians have been reported killed in recent weeks.

White Helmets claimed that volunteer Bilal Bayram was among the victims who was suffocated [Courtesy: White Helmets]

FILE Photo: White Helmets claimed that volunteer Bilal Bayram was among the victims who was suffocated by some kind of chemical gas in Eastern Ghouta in February 2018 [Courtesy: White Helmets]

The Syrian military has been accused of targeting civilians, but it says it is trying to liberate the region – the last major opposition stronghold near the capital Damscus – from those it terms terrorists.

What did Mr Mattis say?

Mr Mattis said Mr Trump had “full political manoeuvre room” to respond to chlorine use.

Rescue workers and activists in Eastern Ghouta say the Syrian government has used chlorine during its assault, but the government denies this.

Mr Mattis did not say he had conclusive evidence gas had been used, but added: “It would be very unwise for them to use weaponised gas. And I think President Trump made that very clear early in his administration.

He was referring to the US cruise missile strike on a Syrian government air base after more than 80 people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. Last October a UN report said the Syrian government had been behind the attack.

Mr Mattis also criticised Russia, a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which had agreed to oversee the destruction of Syrian chemical weapon stockpiles under a 2013 deal.

“Either Russia is incompetent or in cahoots with Assad. There’s an awful lot of reports about chlorine gas use or about symptoms that could be resulting from chlorine gas,” he said.

What’s happening on the ground?

The Syrian army says it has completely surrounded the town of Douma and cut the remaining rebel-held area into two, according to a statement made by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia, which is fighting on the side of the Syrian government.

But a spokesman for one of the main rebel groups earlier told Reuters that neither Douma nor the western town of Harasta had been cut off. That followed reports that the Syrian army had captured the central town of Misraba, which is on a road linking Douma and Harasta.

The BBC’s Arab Affairs editor Sebastian Usher says the army’s strategy is to divide the enclave into isolated sections and so cut off rebel support and supply networks.

Some of the fiercest fighting has been on the eastern edge of the area still under rebel control – the stronghold of one of the two main rebel groups, Faylaq al-Rahman, which is part of the Free Syrian Army.

Some reports say local leaders have been negotiating an evacuation deal for one of the towns, but Faylaq al-Rahman has denied this, vowing to fight on.

A map showing Eastern Ghouta, Syria

What is the situation for civilians?

Civilians have been sheltering in basements amid continuing government strikes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) told the BBC that some residents were going weeks without seeing sunlight because they were too frightened to go out.

“They go out only whenever they want to bring some food for their children,” said ICRC spokeswoman Ingy Sedky.

“And this is when they basically lose their life because it’s becoming very, very dangerous to stay outside basements.”

Bombardment of the town of Kafr Batna in the south of Eastern GhoutaImage copyrightAFP/GETTY
Image captionContinuing air strikes are forcing residents to stay in basements

On Friday a UN convoy was able to successfully deliver aid to Eastern Ghouta, after previous deliveries were halted by shelling.

Some 400,000 people are still thought to live in the area, seven years into Syria’s civil war. It has been besieged by government forces since 2013.

Who are the rebels?

The rebels in Eastern Ghouta are not one cohesive group. They encompass multiple factions, including jihadists, and in-fighting between them has led to past losses of ground to the Syrian government.

The two largest groups are Jaish al-Islam and its rival Faylaq al-Rahman. The latter has in the past fought alongside HTS.

A short guide to the Syrian civil war

Eastern Ghouta is so close to Damascus that it is possible for rebels to fire mortars into the heart of the capital, which has led to scores of civilian deaths.

The Syrian government is desperate to regain the territory, and has said its attempts to recapture it can be attributed directly due to the HTS presence there. HTS was excluded from a ceasefire agreed at the UN that has yet to come into effect.

The group is an alliance of factions led by the Nusra Front, which sprang from al-Qaeda.

Includes video:



Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit

Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

Russia blasts ‘bogus’ reports of Syria chemical attack — Russia continues to defend allies Iran and Syria

February 26, 2018


© AFP | Russia has rubbished claims that children were hurt in a chemical attack on the rebel-held Syrian enclave of Eastern Ghouta at the weekend

MOSCOW (AFP) – Moscow on Monday said reports of an alleged chemical attack on Syria’s rebel-held Eastern Ghouta were planted “bogus stories” and insisted armed groups attacked by regime forces there were terrorist allies.”There are already bogus stories in the media that yesterday chlorine was used in Eastern Ghouta, citing an anonymous individual living in the United States,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press-conference.

A child died and at least 13 other people suffered breathing difficulties in a village in the Eastern Ghouta region after the suspected chemical attack Sunday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and a medic who treated those affected.

Eastern Ghouta has been under one of the most ferocious assaults of Syria’s civil war in recent days, with over 500 people killed in a bombing campaign by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces over the course of a week.

The UN Security Council on Saturday passed a resolution calling for a 30-day ceasefire in Syria, but the document did not specify when the truce would go into force.

In a concession to Russia, the resolution also added wording saying that “individuals, groups, undertakings and entities” associated with Al-Qaeda would not fall under the ceasefire.

Lavrov on Monday said Eastern Ghouta has groups associated with terrorist al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Nusra Front, such as Jaish al-Islam.

“This makes Nusra’s partners unprotected by the ceasefire,” Lavrov said. “They are also subject to actions by the Syrian air force.”

Fresh strikes on Monday killed at least 10 civilians in Eastern Ghouta, which lies east of Damascus, according to the Observatory monitor.

The United Nations secretary-general Antonio Guterres demanded that the ceasefire is immediately implemented.

Russia is a key ally of Assad, and fought a campaign for over two years in Syria in his support, helping to turn around the multi-front war.

France’s Macron threatens Syria strikes if chemical weapon use proven

February 14, 2018

BBC News

French President Emmanuel MacronImage copyrightAFP
Image captionMr Macron reiterated his stance that chemical weapons use in Syria is a “red line”

French President Emmanuel Macron has threatened to “strike” Syria if proof emerges that its government is using chemical weapons against civilians.

“We will strike the place where these launches are made or where they are organised,” he told reporters.

But Mr Macron said French intelligence had so far found no evidence that banned chemical weapons had been used.

His comments follow numerous reports of suspected chlorine attacks in Syria since early January.

Nine people were treated for breathing difficulties after a bomb believed to be filled with the chemical was dropped on a rebel-held town earlier this month.

The Syrian opposition said a government helicopter dropped the bomb on Saraqeb, in the north-western province of Idlib.

The Syrian government strongly denies using chemical weapons and says it does not target civilians.

Syrians reportedly suffering from breathing difficulties following a Syrian government air strikes on the town of Saraqeb rest at a field hospital (4 February 2018)Image copyrightAFP
Image captionPeople brought to hospitals in Saraqeb earlier this month suffered breathing problems, a doctor said

Speaking in Paris on Tuesday, Mr Macron reaffirmed his stance that the use of chemical weapons represented a “red line” for his government.

“Today, our agencies, our armed forces, have not established that chemical weapons, as set out in treaties, have been used against the civilian population,” he said.

“As soon as such proof is established, I will do what I said. The priority is the fight against the terrorists.”

Last year, Mr Macron told Russian President Vladimir Putin

that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would be a “red line” that would draw an “immediate response” from France.

In a telephone call with Mr Putin on Friday, Mr Macron expressed concern over “indications suggesting the possible use of chlorine” against civilians in recent weeks, his office said.

Abo Rabeea says he is still suffering from the chemical weapons strike in Khan Sheikhoun (May 2017)

Following a deadly chemical weapons attack near Damascus in 2013, the United States and Russia agreed a plan with Syria to remove and destroy its chemical weapons stockpile within a year.

But the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has continued to document the use of toxic chemicals in the country.

In April 2017, an attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun left hundreds of people suffering from symptoms consistent with use of a nerve agent.

Witnesses said they saw warplanes attack the town and shocking footage showed victims – many of them children – convulsing and foaming at the mouth. More than 80 people were killed.

In response the US carried out a missile strike against a Syrian air base.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his ally Russia have repeatedly said the incident was fabricated

They say an air strike hit a rebel depot full of chemical munitions.

US not ruling out strikes in Syria after latest chemical attack

February 3, 2018


Syrian flee their homes following an airstrike in the opposition-controlled besieged town of Arbin, Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus on Friday. (AFP)

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump has not ruled out military action to stop chemical weapons attacks in Syria, senior administration officials have said, signaling an intensified effort to press the Damascus regime and its Russian patrons.

In the wake of yet more suspected sarin and chlorine attacks blamed on the regime, Washington said it wants to send a message to Bashar Assad and Moscow that enough is enough.
The latest unconfirmed attack came on Thursday, in the opposition-controlled town of Douma. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that three people suffered respiratory problems after a rocket attack.
Yahya Al-Aridi, spokesman for the Syrian opposition, told Arab News that had it not been for Russia, “the regime wouldn’t have dared to continue its activities and brutal action.”
He said: “This, of course, is another war crime. Crimes perpetrated by the regime have become countless.”
There have been more than 260 reports of chemical attacks, some of which have been verified by UN-backed inspectors and attributed to the Assad regime.
A senior US official told AFP that military options against Damascus similar to those launched in April 2017 were always on the table and “always feasible.”
Trump “hasn’t excluded anything” in the bid to halt the program, the official said. “Using military force is something that is still considered.”
Al-Aridi said the only way to stop the regime’s crimes, in particular the use of chemical weapons, is for Russia, which is responsible for its survival, to behave in a responsible way as a member of the UN Security Council and pressure Assad.
He said the Security Council “should pass legislations or certain laws” that prevent the regime from killing its people with internationally prohibited weapons. “We hear talk, but we don’t see action.”
A second senior US official reported evidence that Assad’s regime has an “ongoing production capability” focused on sarin and chlorine and is developing new ways to deploy the chemicals banned for weapons use.
“It looks like they are trying to evolve for either military reasons or to escape accountability. It is incredibly important to stop that before it gets off the ground,” the official said.
“We are convinced that if the international community does not take action now,” the second official said, “we will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria but by non-state actors. That use will spread to US shores if we cannot stop it,” he said.
Al-Aridi said: “No one is doing anything to ease the pains of Syrian people, unfortunately.”
Syrians, he said, are still waiting for the world to act effectively, but there could come a time when the world acts “because these are crimes perpetrated against humanity on a daily basis.”
US Defense Secretary James Mattis said that chlorine gas has been weaponized and used repeatedly by the regime. He told reporters that the regime would be ill-advised to “go back to violating the chemical weapons convention.”
Mattis said that he had not seen the evidence of the use of sarin gas by the regime but was looking into reports about it.
The Assad regime appears to have altered course only slightly since the US fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airfield in 2017 after a large chemical attack on opposition-held Khan Sheikhun.
Instead of dropping barrel bombs filled with chemical agents from helicopters, the officials said that mortars and other ground-based delivery systems were now being used.
“What they are trying to do as they tip-toe along is testing, and what we are trying to say is that we continue to care about this,” said the second official. The chemical of choice has most often been industrial chlorine, which is easy to produce and legal to possess, rather than sarin, which is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention.




Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, suit

Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

Image may contain: 3 people, people smiling, people standing
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

Chlorine gas leak in Iran — more than 300 people suffered respiratory problems

August 13, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian state TV is reporting that more than 300 people suffered respiratory and other problems after a chlorine gas leakage in the country’s south.

The Sunday report says the victims have been taken to local hospitals in the city of Dezful, some 500 miles (805 kilometers) southwest of the capital Tehran. Thirty people were hospitalized and the rest were released.

The report said the gas leaked from reservoirs in an abandoned warehouse of the local water supply company.

Dezful, population 250,000, is located in oil-rich Khuzestan province.

Image result for Dezful, Iran, map

Syria Attack Exposes Failed Obama, Kerry Deal to Rid Syrian Regime of Chemical Weapons (What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?)

April 12, 2017

Efforts to identify gaps in original mission quickly unraveled; Moscow came to see probe as politicized

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013.

A poster of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad adorns a wall as a United Nations vehicle carrying OPCW inspectors leaves a hotel in Damascus in October 2013. PHOTO: LOUAI BESHARA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

ISTANBUL—The suspected sarin gas attack in Syria last week revealed one of the worst-kept secrets in international diplomacy: A 2013 deal brokered by Russia and the U.S. failed to cripple the Assad regime’s ability to make or use chemical weapons.

International investigators were already looking into eight incidents involving chemical weapons use just since the start of this year, according to a report by the United Nations Secretary General. Evidence was mounting that Damascus continued to use chemicals—including some it had pledged to give up—in attacks on its citizens, according to Western officials and others involved in the disarmament effort.

But Russia disputed the findings of investigators and experts and blocked any meaningful punishment at the United Nations, and Western powers declined to go further. In recent months, inspectors and diplomats trying to dismantle the chemical weapons program concluded they had hit a wall.


The April 4 attack, which killed at least 85 adults and children, is a stark example of the challenge: It was launched from an airfield where inspectors years earlier had identified and destroyed a chemical weapons facility, according to two people familiar with the work of the joint mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations at the time.

Ridding Syria of Chemical Weapons: A Timeline

Western and allied intelligence agencies say the Syrian government has had a chemical weapons program since the 1980s. But Damascus never acknowledged having such weapons until a large-scale sarin attack outside Damascus in 2013- in the middle of a civil war to unseat President Bashar al-Assad- almost triggered U.S. military action. Instead, it led to a U.S.-Russian deal to clear Syria of its chemical weapons. Here are key moments since the start of the Syrian war to dismantle the program:

August 2013 — A sarin gas attack hits the Damascus suburb of Eastern Ghouta, killing at 1,429 people, according to the U.S. government.
U.N. investigators already in Syria on the request of the Syrian government divert their attention to the Ghouta attack and conclude that chemical weapons were used on “a relatively large scale” in Eastern Ghouta.
September 2013 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118 establishes a joint OPCW-U.N. mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.
October 2013 — Syria officially accedes to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
To address mounting reports of chlorine attacks in rebel-held areas, the OPCW creates a separate fact-finding mission to investigate and confirm the possible use of toxic chemicals, including chlorine, as a weapon in Syria. (The mission’s mandate is only to verify if and what chemicals were used, not to identify perpetrators of attacks)
March 2014 — OPCW inspectors report major anomalies in the Syrian government’s disclosures on its research and production facilities. The OPCW also creates a “Declaration Assessment Team” to “attempt to clarify gaps and discrepancies in Syria’s initial declaration.”
June 2014 — The joint OPCW-U.N. mission says that all declared weapons materials of the Syrian Arab Republic have been removed.
September 2014 — The OPCW fact-finding mission publishes a report concluding with “a high degree of confidence” that chlorine was used as a weapon systematically and repeatedly in three villages in northern Syria.
March 2015 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2209 condemns the use of chlorine gas in Syria, noting that it is “the first ever documented instance of the use of toxic chemicals as weapons within the territory of a State Party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.”
August 2015 — Following a U.S.-backed proposal, the U.N. Security Council establishes a “Joint Investigative Mechanism” between the U.N. and the OPCW to hold accountable those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria. Its mission is to identify “individuals, entities, groups or governments” involved.
April 2016 — The U.S. State Department says in a report that Syria hasn’t declared all elements of its chemical weapons program, in violation of its obligations and international norms.
January 2017 — The Obama administration imposes sanctions on 18 senior Syria officials it says are involved in the use of chemical weapons, the first such sanctions on Syrian officials related to chemical weapons use.
February 2017 — Russia and China veto a U.N. Security Council resolution seeking to sanction the Syrian regime for using chemical weapons.

Sources: OPCW, U.N., WSJ research


The U.S. struck the Shayrat Airfield, where Syrian and Russian forces worked side-by-side in recent months, with 59 Tomahawk missiles last week.

White House officials suspect Russia may have known Syria was preparing to launch a chemical attack, and on Tuesday accused Moscow of trying to cover it up.

The Syrian airforce has resumed bombing runs from the airbase since the U.S. airstrike.

“Assad didn’t fire his last salvo of CW, that’s for sure,” a U.S. official said, using an abbreviation for chemical weapons.

The U.S.-Russian agreement in 2013 sought to eliminate the Syrian chemical weapons program.

“Expectations are high… to deliver on the promise of this moment,” Secretary of State John Kerry said at the time.

The mandate of the mission that took up the work later narrowed the parameters to eliminating declared stockpiles and facilities.

Critics of the deal early on said it amounted to a victory for President Bashar al-Assad, who dodged an American military intervention at a moment of regime weakness in exchange for only what chemical stockpiles his regime would declare.

Republican Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, both of whom had backed U.S. military action in Syria, criticized the deal then for leaving out an explicit threat of military force for any failure by Syria to comply, calling it “an act of provocative weakness.”

Obama administration officials said the deal successfully rid Syria of the majority of its chemical weapons and that the alternative—a war with Syria or even Russia —would have been far worse.

Some officials involved in the OPCW-U.N. mission defend its success, saying it had a limited mandate and worked under unprecedented conditions to remove and destroy from Syria chemical weapons declared by the Syrian government. By August 2014, behind schedule but still not a year from its deployment, the mission removed 1,300 metric tons of chemicals from Syria, some destroyed at sea in operations that had never been tried before.

Any effort to paint the mission as flawed is “revisionism,” one official involved in its early set-up said, because “all parties involved seemed to be quite content with what had been declared, on the same page as to the extent and nature of the Syrian CW program.”

Non-proliferation experts concur in that assessment.

“Though not acknowledged openly, it is not possible to achieve 100% disarmament of a CW program and verify such, even in the best of circumstances and over a long-period of time. Syria in 2013 was anything but best case scenario,” said Michael Elleman, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, who served on U.N. weapons inspection missions in Iraq. “I still view the mission as a success, from a non-proliferation perspective.”

U.S. and allied intelligence agencies meanwhile are trying to get a better picture of Syria’s chemical weapons after the attack.

A Wall Street Journal investigation in 2015 showed that the regime hid some nerve agents, scattered stockpiles to complicate the work of inspectors, and continued to operate weapons-research facilities even after the main mission to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons in 2014 ended.

More recent concern among U.S. and allied officials, before the latest attack, centered on how traces of sarin were still showing up on the Syrian battlefield. Damascus was also turning to new toxins, such as chlorine and developing new munitions, according to Western officials tracking the issue.

Syria has repeatedly denied it has used chemical weapons.

Western officials and others directly involved in the effort to rid Syria of chemical weapons described in interviews what took place in the months and years that followed the 2013 deal.

The technical efforts to try to identify what the original mission omitted or missed—and the rare U.S.-Russian unity of purpose that backed it—would begin to unravel even before the Danish ship carrying the last batch of chemicals departed the Syrian port of Tartous in the summer of 2014. That spring, the team tasked with dismantling the program saw such inconsistencies between the Syrian government’s declarations and previous intelligence assessments that the OPCW set up a new team dedicated to filling the gaps.

In the months that followed, as scientists studied results from destroyed facilities and inspected equipment that Damascus had denied was related to chemical weapons, the discrepancies grew wider. For example, inspectors couldn’t reconcile the quantities of munitions the Syrians were producing with the chemical weapons they said they had intended to produce.

At the same time, the organization created a separate fact-finding mission to investigate allegations of chlorine attacks—which fell outside the mandate of the inspectors working on destroying the chemical weapons program—in rebel-held areas.

The follow-up work infuriated Russia and Iran, which wanted the OPCW to focus on a narrowly-defined technical mission, according to mission officials and diplomats. Chlorine attacks on rebels surged again several months later, and the OPCW fact-finding mission concluded in a public report that chlorine had been used as a weapon systematically in three villages in northern Syria.

In Damascus, the OPCW team trying to get clearer answers from the government on its initial declarations struggled to get face-time with the relevant officials. Several times they were told Syria had no other information to offer because no paper documents existed related to its chemical weapons program, a major state secret.

“What could be done?” said Wa’el Alzayat, a former advisor to Samantha Power, the U.S.’s former envoy to the U.N, recalling that time period in 2014. “There was no recourse on the U.N. Security Council because of the Russian veto, and there was no recourse on the ground because the [former] administration didn’t want to get involved militarily.”

At the U.N., reports to the Security Council based on briefings from the OPCW made clear Syria was skirting its obligations, but drafts were often watered down to avoid clashing with Russia, diplomats said. “There was absolutely no appetite in the U.N. or among member states to open that can of worms,” a senior U.N. official said. “Everybody conveniently decided to put it to rest, while the bureaucracy continued to report.”

The U.S. scored a diplomatic victory in late 2015, getting Russia at the Security Council to back a new U.N. mission with the OPCW, called the Joint Investigative Mechanism, to identify individuals, entities, groups, or governments involved in chemical weapons in Syria. “Pointing the finger matters,” Ms. Power, the U.S. envoy at the time, told the Security Council.

The resolution came after three more fact-finding missions in Syria established a pattern of attacks with chlorine, and indirectly pointed the blame at the government by identifying that helicopters were used in the attack.

They also found that in at one instance, Islamic State militants had likely used chemical weapons too. Syria had tried to “exercise veto power” over the fact finding missions, according to a U.S. State Department report, but was overruled by the organization.

Damascus at this time again said it had never used chemical weapons, and warned about their use by terrorist groups.

Within months of the new mission starting its work, U.S. and European officials believed they had the evidence they needed to coax Russia into their camp and consider U.N.-backed sanctions on the Syrian regime.

The mission identified Syrian military units and officials believed to be involved in chemical weapons attacks. But Moscow made clear it considered the reporting politicized and didn’t think any of the evidence was credible enough, U.N. diplomats said.

After a report on those findings, which one European official described as “the smoking gun,” was published in the early fall of 2016, it took several months for any response to be debated in earnest, and then attention turned to the Russian-backed Syrian government campaign to drive rebels out of the city of Aleppo.

By the end of 2016, the U.N. was citing “no progress” in the effort to dismantle Syria’s chemical weapons program. With no movement at the U.N., Western nations reverted to sanctions. In November 2016, the E.U. placed sanctions on 17 Syrian officials. The Obama administration followed the move in January 2017, sanctioning 18 senior Syrian officials it said were involved in the use of chemical weapons against civilians.

In March, OPCW investigators told their counterparts at the U.N. they had no new information to report from Syria and were aiming to resume high-level consultations with the Syrian government in early May.

Corrections & Amplifications
Samantha Power was the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. in 2015. An earlier version of this article misspelled her surname on second reference. An earlier version of this story (April 12)

Write to Nour Malas at


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Syrian government used chemical weapons in Aleppo fight: Human Rights Watch

February 13, 2017


Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during battles to retake the city late last year, Human Rights Watch said in a report published on Monday.

The findings add to mounting evidence of the use of banned chemical weapons in the six-year-old Syrian civil war and could strengthen calls by Britain, France and the United States for sanctions against Syrian officials.

Government helicopters dropped chlorine bombs “in residential areas in Aleppo on at least eight occasions between November 17 and December 13, 2016,” the New York-based group said.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees a global treaty banning toxic warfare, had no immediate comment.

Syria and its ally Russia, which helped state troops in the Aleppo assault, have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the conflict. They blame opposition militants seeking to topple the government of President Bashar al-Assad.

Human Rights Watch said its report, which was based on interviews with witnesses, analysis of videos and photos and social media posts, did not find proof of Russian involvement in the chemical attacks, but noted Moscow’s key role in helping the government to retake Aleppo.

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“The attacks, some of which included multiple munitions, killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200,” it said.

Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said in an interview that the way chemical attacks moved in step with the frontline showed they were an integral part of the offensive.

“This is a strong indication that these chlorine attacks were coordinated with the overall military strategy. And it is a strong indication then that senior military officers, the commanders of this military offensive in Aleppo, knew that chlorine was being used,” he said.

A U.N.-OPCW inquiry assigned to identify organisations and individuals responsible for the chemical attacks concluded last October that Syrian government forces had used chlorine as a chemical weapon at least three times in 2014-15. Islamic State militants, it said, had used sulphur mustard gas in one attack.

The U.N. Security Council extended the mandate of the inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mission (JIM), until November this year. It is due to issue its next report by Saturday.

Responding to the JIM’s findings, the United States last month blacklisted 18 senior Syrian officials it said were connected to the country’s weapons of mass destruction program.

Reuters reported in January that leading Syrian officials, including President Assad and his brother, had been identified as possible suspects in the chemical attacks.

Chlorine’s use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013. If inhaled, chlorine gas turns into hydrochloric acid in the lungs and can kill by burning lungs and drowning victims in the resulting body fluids.



John KerrySecretary of State John Kerry delivers a speech on Middle East peace at The U.S. Department of State. CREDIT: 2016 GETTY IMAGES/2016 GETTY IMAGES


 (From the BBC)

Campaign to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group presses ahead — “Cautiously advancing” — Experts Now Say Islamic State Used Chemical Weapons at Least 52 Times in Syria and Iraq

November 22, 2016

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — The Latest in the monthlong campaign to retake the Iraqi city of Mosul from the Islamic State group (all times local):

2 p.m.

A new analysis has found that the Islamic State group has used chemical weapons at least 52 times since 2014 in Iraq and Syria, including 19 times in the Mosul area alone.

It says there’s a high risk that the group will deploy the weapons again in Mosul against civilians or the military forces trying to retake the northern Iraqi city. IHS Markit released the analysis on Tuesday.

The analysis says Mosul was a center for chemical weapons production for the Sunni militant group, but experts believe IS moved the materials and experts to Syria ahead of the U.S.-backed Iraqi offensive that began last month.

IHS concluded that chlorine and mustard agents are the most likely chemicals to be used in Mosul.


12:45 p.m.

Iraq’s foreign minister says progress in liberating the northern city of Mosul has been slowed by the Islamic State group’s use of civilians as human shields.

Ibrahim al-Jaafari said during a visit to Hungary on Tuesday that 1,700 IS fighters have been killed and 120 captured in the battle for Mosul so far.

He says one third of the Ninevah province, where Mosul is the capital, has been freed from IS.

Al-Jaafari says 62,000 refugees have left the city — much fewer than was expected by authorities — and that Iraq is “prepared to receive many more.”

Al-Jaafari, who signed a double taxation agreement with his Hungarian counterpart, Peter Szijjarto, also said Iraq needed to increase its crude oil output, which he said provided 90 percent of state budget revenues, and be exempt from OPEC output quotas because of its “extraordinary situation.”


10:05 a.m.

A senior Iraqi commander says troops are moving to take another neighborhood in the eastern sector of the northern city of Mosul but are meeting stiff resistance from Islamic State militants.

Brig. Gen. Haider Fadel of the special forces tells The Associated Press that IS fighters are targeting his forces with rockets and mortars as they slowly advance in the densely populated al-Zohour neighborhood on Tuesday.

He says they’re “cautiously advancing.”

Iraq’s military launched a campaign on Oct. 17 to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city and the last major IS urban bastion in the country. Most gains have been made by the special forces operating east of the Tigris River. Other forces are advancing on the city from different directions, and the U.S.-led coalition is providing airstrikes and other support.


This story has been corrected to show that the Islamic State group is believed to have used chemical weapons 52 times in Iraq and Syria since 2014, not 71 times.


 President Barack Obama answers questions during a joint news conference on Aug. 2, 2016.


ISIS Used Chemical Arms at Least 52 Times in Syria and Iraq, Report Says

WASHINGTON — The Islamic State has used chemical weapons, including chlorine and sulfur mustard agents, at least 52 times on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq since it swept to power in 2014, according to a new independent analysis.

More than one-third of those chemical attacks have come in and around Mosul, the Islamic State stronghold in northern Iraq, according to the assessment by the IHS Conflict Monitor, a London-based intelligence collection and analysis service.

The IHS conclusions, which are based on local news reports, social media and Islamic State propaganda, mark the broadest compilation of chemical attacks in the conflict. American and Iraqi military officials have expressed growing alarm over the prospect of additional chemical attacks as the allies press to regain both Mosul and Raqqa, the Islamic State capital in Syria.