International community cautious amidst reports of ongoing chlorine gas attacks

April 23, 2014

By Mohammad al-Haj Ali and Elizabeth Parker-Magyar

AMMAN: Opposition activists are accusing the Syrian government of widespread use of chlorine gas in rebel-held areas days after the United States and France cited “indications” and “credible evidence” that the chemical weapon was used in an April 11 attack on the town of Kafr Zeita in Hama province.

On Wednesday, opposition media and activists charged the Syrian government with using chlorine gas in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, echoing similar claims that it was used on April 16 in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, in Hama province’s Kafr Zeita on April 11 to and in the Idlib town of Telmans this past Sunday.

Pro-opposition activists said 100 people were injured in the Telmins attack and uploaded videos of frantic, coughing citizens being treated in a nearby hospital.

A number of children wore gas masks to repel the deleterious effects of a chlorine gas attack on their hometown in Idlib province, in a photo uploaded by opposition activists Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Edlib News Network.

Since Sunday, the United States and France have accused unnamed parties in Syria of using chlorine gas in the Hama province town of Kafr Zeita on April 11. The United States called for a further investigation into the incident earlier this week.

Both the Syrian government and opposition acknowledge that chlorine gas, which can cause acute and severe respiratory damage, was used in Kafr Zeita. The Syrian government blames “the American administration, the Turkish government, Israel, Saudi Arabia and terrorist groups responsible for the crimes that have been committed with chemical weapons,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

On Wednesday, rebels freshly accused the Syrian government of using the gas in the Damascus suburb of Daraya, echoing similar claims that the gas was used on April 16th in the Damascus suburb of Harasta, in Kafr Zeita on April 11th to and in Idlib’s Telmans on Sunday.

France and the United States cited “indications” and “credible evidence” chlorine gas was used in April 11 attacks on the Hama province town of Kafr Zeita, where videos depicted children struggling to breathe after a Syrian government air raid.

The Syrian Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, accused a bevy of parties of chlorine gas use Monday. “Syria holds the American administration, the Turkish government, Israel, Saudi Arabia and terrorist groups responsible for the crimes that have been committed with chemical weapons,” the Ministry said in a statement.

Syrian use of chlorine may exploit a loophole in the Syrian government’s September 2013 pledge to hand over its stockpile of chemical weapons to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). “Chlorine gas was not included on the list submitted to the OPCW,” Reuters reported Wednesday.

Chlorine gas is not as lethal as sarin gas, used in the August 2013 attack on East Ghouta that the United States says killed 1,400 people, but remains in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention Syria agreed to in September.

On Tuesday, the OPCW reported that 86.5% of the Syrian government’s chemicals had been removed from Syria.

The Syrian government missed a preliminary deadline for shipping out its chemical weapons arsenal on February 5th, citing “reasons and logistical reasons,” but has since accelerated the pace of chemical weapons removal.

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