Chemical arms experts in Turkey to probe; UK confirms sarin use

AMSTERDAM: Global chemical weapons investigators have gone to Turkey to collect samples as part of an inquiry into an alleged chemical weapons attack in neighbouring Syria last week that killed 87 people.
The fact-finding mission was sent by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources said on Thursday.
The toxic gas attack on April 4, which killed scores of people including children, prompted a US cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base and widened a rift between the United States and Russia, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al Assad in his conflict with rebels and militants fighting to oust him.
Russian officials said the gas had been released by an air strike on a poison gas storage depot controlled by rebels. Washington said that account was not credible, and rebels have denied it.
Samples taken from the poison gas site in Syria’s Idlib governorate tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, the British delegation at the OPCW said on Thursday. “UK scientists have analysed samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun. These have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance,” the delegation said during a special session on Syria at the OPCW in The Hague.
The UK result confirmed earlier testing by Turkish authorities that concluded that sarin had been used for the first time on a large scale in Syria’s civil war since 2013.
The OPCW mission will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to assign blame. Its findings, expected in 3-4 weeks, will be passed to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation tasked with identifying individuals or institutions responsible for using chemical weapons.
International investigators have concluded that sarin, chlorine and sulphur mustard gas have been used in Syria’s six-year-old conflict, with government forces using chlorine and IS militants using sulphur mustard.
Meanwhile, the US-led coalition said on Thursday that a coalition air strike accidentally killed 18 members of a US-backed Arab-Kurdish alliance fighting the IS group near a key town in northern Syria. — Reuters/AFP
Tuesday’s strike occurred south of Tabqa, an important town on the Euphrates River next to a dam and military airport, and close to the IS stronghold of Raqa. — Reuters/AFP
“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position,” a coalition statement read.
“The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position.”
SDF troops backed by coalition air power and other military assistance have been fighting for control of Tabqa since last month.
The town is considered an important waypoint ahead of the main offensive for Raqa, the IS group’s last bastion in Syria.
In its own statement, the SDF described the incident as a “painful accident” resulting from a “mistake.”
“The accident caused a number of deaths and injuries. The general command of the Syrian Democratic Forces is coordinating with international coalition forces to investigate the incident and uncover the reasons and conditions that led to this accident.”
The coalition offered its “deepest condolences” to the members of the SDF and their families.
“The coalition is in close contact with our SDF partners who have expressed a strong desire to remain focused on the fight against ISIS despite this tragic incident,” the coalition statement said.
Officials were assessing the cause and would “implement appropriate safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future,” the statement added.
The SDF is a local Arab-Kurdish force that the US-led coalition is supporting with arms, air strikes, training and advice as they fight IS.– Reuters/AFP