Posts Tagged ‘chlorine’

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.

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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.
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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.
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September 2013 — U.N. Security Council Resolution 2118 establishes a joint OPCW-U.N. mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons program.
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October 2013 — Syria officially accedes to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
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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)
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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.”
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June 2014 — The joint OPCW-U.N. mission says that all declared weapons materials of the Syrian Arab Republic have been removed.
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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

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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 nour.malas@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/syria-attack-exposes-failed-deal-to-rid-regime-of-chemical-weapons-1491963112

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What should we think about the Iran nuclear deal?

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

February 13, 2017

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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.

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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

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 (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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/21/world/middleeast/isis-chemical-weapons-syria-iraq-mosul.html?ref=world

Russia questions report blaming Syrian government for gas attacks

August 31, 2016

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A civilian breathes through an oxygen mask at al-Quds hospital, after a hospital and a civil defence group said a gas, what they believed to be chlorine, was dropped alongside barrel bombs on a neighbourhood of the Syrian city of Aleppo, Syria, early August 11, 2016. REUTERS/Abdalrhman Ismail

Reuters

Tue Aug 30, 2016 5:57pm EDT

By Michelle Nichols | UNITED NATIONS

Russia questioned on Tuesday a report by the United Nations and a global chemical weapons watchdog that blamed Syrian government forces for two chlorine gas attacks, saying the U.N. Security Council could not use the conclusions to impose sanctions.

A year-long U.N. and Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) inquiry, unanimously authorized by the 15-member Security Council, also found that Islamic State militants used sulfur mustard gas.

The U.N. Security Council began talks on Tuesday on how to respond to the inquiry. When asked if he thought the report was enough to impose sanctions on Syria, Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said: “Frankly, I don’t, but we continue to analyze the report.”

“There are two cases that they suggest are the fault of the Syrian side; we have very serious questions,” he told reporters after the council met behind closed doors to discuss the issue.

The report set the stage for a Security Council showdown between the five veto-wielding powers, pitting Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France.

“The sorts of things we will be looking at are the imposition of a sanctions regime and some form of accountability within international legal mechanisms,” said British U.N. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft on his way into the meeting.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Moscow and Washington. The Security Council backed that deal with a resolution that said in the event of non-compliance, “including unauthorized transfer of chemical weapons, or any use of chemical weapons by anyone” in Syria, it would impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

Chapter 7 deals with sanctions and authorization of military force by the Security Council. The body would need to adopt another resolution to impose targeted sanctions – a travel ban and asset freeze – on people or entities linked to the attacks.

“It is incumbent on the council to act swiftly to show that when we put that Joint Investigative Mechanism in place we were serious about there being meaningful accountability,” U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said on her way into the meeting.

“I can’t specify or get ahead of where the council’s going to be,” she said.

Russia, a close Syrian ally, and China have previously protected the Syrian government from council action by blocking several resolutions, including a bid to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

“We need a resolution and we need a resolution with teeth,” said French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre on Tuesday.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)

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Are these men war criminals?

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Chemical weapons attacks in Syria may normalise war crimes, experts warn

Woman and two children killed in suspected chlorine attack in Aleppo – one of dozens of such attacks reported since Syria gave up its weapons stockpile

 
Syria is in ruins
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In a city in ruins, a poster proclaiming the greatness of Syria’s President Bashar al Assad is about the only thing left….

United Nations building in New York

France ‘concerned’ by Syria chemical attack reports

August 11, 2016

AFP

© 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

PARIS (AFP) – France on Thursday expressed alarm at reports of a deadly chemical attack Wednesday in the Syrian battleground city of Aleppo.

Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said in a statement he was “concerned by reports of a new chemical attack… that is said to have claimed four lives people and left dozens injured.”

He added: “I strongly condemn all attacks on the civilian population, particularly those in which chemical weapons are used.”

Asked about the reported attack Thursday during a news conference in Geneva, the UN envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said it was not in his remit to verify such reports but that “there is a lot of evidence that it actually did take place”.

“If it did take place, it is a war crime and as such it would require everyone… to address it immediately,” he added.

In the past two years there have been numerous allegations of chemical weapons being used against civilians, both by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and the rebels trying to oust him.

The United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are due to report later this month on their investigation into nine chemical weapons attacks in 2014 and 2015.

Ayrault said he would be “particularly attentive” to their findings.

In January, the OPCW announced that all of Syria’s declared chemical arms stockpile had been completely destroyed.

But concerns remain that undeclared amounts of sarin gas and other chemical weapons are still being used.

Last week, the defence ministry of Russia, a staunch ally of Assad, accused rebels in Aleppo of killing seven people in an attack using a “poisonous agent”.

The Russian claim came on the heels of reports that two dozen people had suffered breathing difficulties in the rebel-held town of Saraqeb, after a barrel bomb attack there that residents claimed used chlorine gas.

Ayrault laid the blame for the five-year war that has cost nearly 300,000 lives on “the cynical attitude of the (Assad) regime and its supporters who are preventing any political solution in Syria.”

Iraqi girl dies after Islamic State chemical attack

March 11, 2016

AFP

Iraqis bury three-year-old Fatima Samir, who died after a chemical attack by the Islamic State group on the town of Taza, south of Kirkuk, on March 11, 2016. AFP photo

KIRKUK (IRAQ) (AFP) – A three-year-old Iraqi girl wounded in a chemical attack by the Islamic State group died in hospital Friday, medical sources and officials said.

“She died of respiratory complications and kidney failure… caused by the mustard agent used by Daesh (IS) in Taza,” said Masrour Aswad, of the Iraqi Commission for Human Rights.

Fatima Samir was among the dozens of people hospitalised after a chemical attack carried out Wednesday on the town of Taza, just south of the city of Kirkuk.

Burhan Abdallah, the head of Kirkuk health directorate, said four people in serious condition were transferred to Baghdad.

Aswad said the rockets fired on Taza from the nearby IS-held town of Bashir contained mustard agent. Other security officials said chlorine may have been used.

Intelligence officials have collected samples that are still being analysed.

IS has used both chemical agents in the past, a tactic which has caused few casualties and whose impact so far has been more psychological than military.

Abu Ridha al-Najjar, a leader in the Turkmen branch of the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary umbrella group that includes Iraq’s mostly Shiite militias, said the attack had sown fear.

“International NGOs should come to the region to see the effects of such shelling and its consequences on the civilian population, including after the attack,” he said.

The Pentagon announced on Thursday that the US-led coalition against IS had carried out air strikes on the jihadist group’s chemical weapons sites.

It said the targets were identified following the capture in Iraq last month of a man presented as the group’s top chemical expert.

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A member of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent carries a wounded boy following an airstrike in the rebel-held city of Douma in Eastern Ghouta, on February 26, 2016. © AFP/File

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U.S. special forces abducted Islamic State group’s chief of chemical weapons “militarization” — and now he’s talking

March 9, 2016

U.S. Special Forces. Photograph by Staff Sgt Aaron Allmon, AP

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD — U.S. special forces captured the head of the Islamic State group’s unit trying to develop chemical weapons in a raid last month in northern Iraq, two senior Iraqi intelligence officials told the Associated Press, the first known major success of Washington’s more aggressive policy of pursuing the jihadis on the ground.

The Obama administration launched the new strategy in December, deploying a commando force to Iraq that it said would be dedicated to capturing and killing IS leaders in clandestine operations, as well as generating intelligence leading to more raids.

U.S. officials said last week that the expeditionary team had captured an Islamic State leader but had refused to identify him, saying only that he had been held for two or three weeks and was being questioned.

The two Iraqi officials identified the man as Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, who worked for Saddam Hussein’s now-dissolved Military Industrialization Authority where he specialized in chemical and biological weapons. They said al-Afari, who is about 50 years old, heads the Islamic State group’s recently established branch for the research and development of chemical weapons.

He was captured in a raid near the northern Iraqi town of Tal Afar, the officials said. They would not give further details.

The officials, who both have first-hand knowledge of the individual and of the IS chemical program, spoke on condition of anonymity as they are not authorized to brief the media. No confirmation was available from U.S. officials.

A U.S. official said Wednesday that one or more follow-up airstrikes were conducted against suspected IS chemical facilities in northern Iraq in recent days. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-related operations, was unfamiliar with details of the airstrikes but indicated that they did not fully eliminate IS’s suspected chemical threat.

The U.S.-led coalition began targeting IS’ chemical weapons infrastructure with airstrikes and special operations raids over the past two months, the Iraqi intelligence officials and a Western security official in Baghdad told the AP.

Airstrikes are targeting laboratories and equipment, and further special forces raids targeting chemical weapons experts are planned, the intelligence officials said. They and the Western official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.

IS has been making a determined effort to develop chemical weapons, Iraqi and American officials have said. It is believed to have set up a special unit for chemical weapons research, made up of Iraqi scientists from the Saddam-era weapons program as well as foreign experts. Iraqi officials expressed particular worry over the effort because IS gained so much room to operate and hide chemical laboratories after overrunning around a third of the country in the summer of 2014, joined with territory they controlled in neighboring Syria.

Still, its progress has been limited. It is believed to have created limited amounts of mustard gas. Tests confirmed mustard gas was used in a town in Syria when IS was launching attacks there in August 2015. Other unverified reports in both Iraq and Syria accuse IS of using chemical agents on the battlefield.

But so far, experts say, the extremist group appears incapable of launching a large-scale chemical weapons attacks, which requires not only expertise, but also the proper equipment, materials and a supply-chain to produce enough of the chemical agent to pose a significant threat.

“More than a symbolic attack seems to me to be beyond the grasp of ISIS,” said Dan Kaszeta, a former U.S. Army chemical officer and Department of Homeland Security expert who is now a private consultant, using an alternative acronym for the group. “Furthermore, the chemicals we are talking about are principally chlorine and sulfur mustard, both of which are actually quite poor weapons by modern standards.”

The United States has been leading a coalition waging airstrikes against IS in Iraq and Syria for more than a year. The campaign has been key to backing Iraqi and Kurdish forces that have slowly retaken significant parts of the territory the militants had seized.

But after coming under pressure at home for greater action against the militants, the Obama administration moved to the tactic of stepped up commando operations on the ground.

Last year, U.S. special forces killed a key IS leader and captured his wife in a raid in Syria, but the new force in Iraq was intended as a more dedicated deployment. American officials have been deeply secretive about the operation. Its size is unknown, thought it may be fewer than 100 troops.

“This is a no-kidding force that will be doing important things,” was about all Defense Secretary Ash Carter would say about the force in testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee in December.

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AP National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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ISIS Detainee Tells U.S. of Militants’ Plan to Use Mustard Gas

WASHINGTON — An Islamic State detainee currently in American custody at a temporary detention facility in Erbil, Iraq, is a specialist in chemical weapons whom American military officials are questioning about the militant Sunni group’s plans to use the banned substances in Iraq and Syria, defense officials said.

The detainee was identified by officials as Sleiman Daoud al-Afari, a chemical and biological weapons expert who once worked for Saddam Hussein’s Military Industrialization Authority.

Mr. al-Afari, described by the military as a “significant” Islamic State operative who was captured a month ago by commandos in an elite American Special Operations force, has, under interrogation, provided his captors with details about how the group had weaponized mustard gas into powdered form and loaded it into artillery shells, the officials said.

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Syria chemical arms probe found signs of sarin gas exposure: U.N.

January 4, 2016

By Louis Charbonneau and Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – A fact-finding mission of the global anti-chemical weapons watchdog has found indications that some people in Syria were exposed to deadly sarin gas, or a compound like it, according to a report the United Nations released on Monday.

The findings come in the latest monthly report on Syria from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) chief Ahmet Uzumcu. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon attached it in a Dec. 29 letter to the 15-nation Security Council.

Uzumcu’s report said his agency’s fact-finding mission in Syria was looking into charges by the Syrian government that chemical weapons were used in 11 instances. The report did not specify when the alleged toxic gas attacks occurred.

“In one instance, analysis of some blood samples indicates that individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” Uzumcu said. “Further investigation would be necessary to determine when or under what circumstances such exposure might have occurred.”

The Syrian government has long accused opposition fighters, who have been seeking for nearly five years to oust the country’s president, of using chemical weapons. Western-backed rebels in Syria have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

Western officials say it is unlikely rebels would have the capability to deploy sarin gas.

Uzumcu said the source of the sarin or sarin-like compound was unclear, adding that the OPCW fact-finding mission “did not come across evidence that would shed more light on the specific nature or source of the exposure.”

Syria agreed in September 2013 to destroy its entire chemical weapons program under a deal negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas attack in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.

chemical weapons

This image made from an AP video posted on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013 shows Syrians in protective suits conducting a drill on how to treat casualties of a chemical attack in Aleppo, Syria

At the time, Washington was threatening the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad with air strikes.

The OPCW had previously determined that mustard gas was used in a Syrian town where Islamic State insurgents were battling another group.

The last of 1,300 tons of chemical weapons declared to the OPCW was handed over in June 2014, but several Western governments have expressed doubt that Assad’s government declared its entire arsenal.

The OPCW has reported previously that chlorine has also been used illegally in systematic attacks against civilians in Syria.

Several international investigations have determined that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, though none has so far assigned blame. A U.N.-OPCW joint investigative mission has been given the task of determining who was behind those attacks.

(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

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Islamic State militants “most probably” used the banned chemical weapon mustard gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq — International Investigation

October 20, 2015

Reuters

THE HAGUE |

Islamic State militants “most probably” used the banned chemical weapon mustard gas against Kurdish forces in Iraq and international inspectors have been asked to investigate, diplomatic sources told Reuters.

A team of inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will go to Iraq next week to help determine if the blistering agent sulfur mustard was used in the battlefield, three sources told Reuters.

Islamic State already has a broad arsenal of weapons and military vehicles seized from Iraqi forces. It launched an attack with “weaponized chlorine” in January and there have been at least four other occasions it allegedly used chemical weapons, regional officials said.

If Islamic State insurgents have obtained sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, it would signal a dangerous development in a conflict that has already destabilized the region.

Sulfur mustard is a Class 1 chemical agent, which means it has few uses outside chemical warfare. A blistering agent that causes severe delayed burns to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract, it was used on a massive scale during World War One.

Kurdish authorities say 35 troops southwest of the regional capital of Erbil were sickened in August by a chemical attack. Blood samples tested positive for mustard gas, they said earlier this month.

“Most probably it was mustard gas,” said one diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the information was classified, “But we want to make sure and we want to know where it came from because it is very difficult to get.”

Chemical agents are not believed to have been used in fighting in Iraq since Saddam Hussein’s fall in 2003.

If confirmed by the OPCW, it would raise serious questions about how Islamic State militants got their hands on the chemicals and, crucially, where they came from.

There are no declared stockpiles of mustard gas in the Middle East since Syria joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in 2013, vowing to eliminate its chemical weapons program.

The OPCW team’s mandate will be limited to the single allegation of use in August against the Kurdish Peshmerga forces, which was allegedly fired using mortar rounds.

Syria declared 1,300 tonnes of chemicals weapons to the OPCW in 2013 as part of a deal with Russia, avoiding air strikes that had been threatened by the United States.

Amid continued allegations of the use of prohibited chlorine barrel bombs in Syria, Damascus is in discussions with the OPCW about whether it accurately and fully disclosed its chemical weapons program.

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Tom Heneghan)

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A Peshmerga fighter displays the effects of chemical weapons at an aid event in Makhmour on Tuesday. Photo: Kurt Nagl (Rudaw).
A Peshmerga fighter displays the effects of chemical weapons at an aid event in Makhmour. Photo: Kurt Nagl (Rudaw).
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Related:

People wearing gas masks and protective gear
Special care must be taking when handling sulphur mustard, because contact causes blistering of the skin, eyes and respiratory tract

Children believed killed by chemical weapons

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A United Nations weapons expert collects samples during an investigation into a 2013 suspected chemical weapons strike near Damascus. Ammar Al-Arbini/AFP/File