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Chemical Weapons

Syrian air force used chlorine gas in a February 2018 attack on Saraqib, OPCW investigators find

The second report from the investigation and identification team again concludes that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons

by Laura Howes
April 14, 2021 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 99, Issue 14


A broken, yellow-colored metal cylinder.
Credit: Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
OPCW investigators think this cylinder contained chlorine and was dropped on Saraqib in February 2018.

The Syrian government dropped chlorine gas on Saraqib on Feb. 4, 2018, according to a report published earlier this month by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). This report is the second published by the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which is mandated to assign responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.

As with the IIT’s previous findings from a different attack in Syria, the new report is clear that there are no accepted chemical fingerprints for chlorine gas, although researchers are working on the problem. The IIT combined the findings of an earlier OPCW Fact-Finding Mission with additional investigation to reach its conclusion.

The IIT also investigated claims that chlorine attacks could have been staged using household cleaning products. The team analyzed chlorine-based products available in the local area and found six chemicals that would point to cleaning products, but OPCW scientists found no trace of any of them at the site, the report says.

Instead, the IIT concludes that “there are reasonable grounds to believe that at approximately 21:22 on 4 February 2018, during ongoing attacks against Saraqib, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force under the control of the Tiger Forces hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder. The cylinder ruptured and released a toxic gas, chlorine, which dispersed over a large area affecting 12 named individuals.”

“It is now up to the International Community to duly consider the reports and take appropriate action,” says European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell in a statement welcoming the IIT’s report. OPCW Member States are to meet April 22–24 as part of the 25th Conference of State Parties. The Syrian government has been a member of the OPCW since 2013 and has consistently denied using chemical weapons.



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