UN war crimes team documents further Syrian use of banned chlorine

GENEVA: Syrian government forces fired chlorine, a banned chemical weapon, on a rebel-held Damascus suburb and on Idlib province this year, in attacks that constitute war crimes, United Nations human rights investigators said on Wednesday.
The three incidents bring to 39 the number of chemical attacks which the Commission of Inquiry on Syria has documented since 2013, including 33 attributed to the government, a UN official said. The perpetrators of the remaining six have not been sufficiently identified.
Weaponising chlorine is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention, ratified by Syria, and under customary international humanitarian law, the investigators said in their latest report.
“To recapture eastern Ghouta in April, government forces launched numerous indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, which included the use of chemical weapons,” it said, referring to incidents on January 22 and February 1 in a residential area of Douma, eastern Ghouta, outside the capital. Women and children were injured in the attacks, suffering respiratory distress and requiring oxygen, it added.
“The Commission concludes that, on these two occasions, government forces and or affiliated militias committed the war crimes of using prohibited weapons and launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian-populated areas in eastern Ghouta,” it said. A surface-to-surface, improvised rocket-assisted munition had been used in the two Douma incidents, it said. “Specifically the munitions documented were built around industrially-produced artillery rockets known to have been supplied to forces commanded by the (Syrian) government,” the report added.
In the northwest province of Idlib — where the UN fears a major imminent assault by Syrian and Russian forces against the last rebel-held stronghold — chlorine was also used on February 4, the UN report said. “Government helicopters dropped at least two barrels carrying chlorine payloads in the Taleel area of Saraqeb,” it said, adding that at least 11 men were injured.
“Documentary and material evidence analysed by the Commission confirmed the presence of helicopters in the area and the use of two yellow gas cylinders”.
The report, based on 400 interviews, also examined aerial and ground attacks by Turkey’s ‘Operation Olive Branch’, conducted with allied Syrian rebels, which wrestled the northwest Afrin region from Syrian Kurdish forces this spring. — AFP