Friday 24 November 2017

Tests prove Syria waging chemical warfare on people

A boy affected by what activists say was a gas attack on the Syrian town of Telminnes receives treatment in Bab al-Hawa hospital.
A boy affected by what activists say was a gas attack on the Syrian town of Telminnes receives treatment in Bab al-Hawa hospital.
Syrian President Bashar Assad. AP
Forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad carry their weapons as they move in al-Amriyeh neighbourhood of the northwestern city of Aleppo after claiming to have advanced in the area. Reuters
Syrian men carry a wounded victim from the scene after a government airstrike in Aleppo. Dozens of people were killed and wounded in fighting between pro-Assad forces and rebels in the northern city on Sunday. AP
Damaged buildings are pictured in the al-Amriyeh neighbourhood of Syria's northwestern city of Aleppo, after forces loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad claimed to have advanced in the area. Reuters
Medics at a hospital help a boy who was injured after mortar bombs landed on two areas in Damascus. Two mortar shells struck a school complex in central Damascus on Tuesday, killing at least 14 people and wounding dozens, state media and a monitoring group said. Reuters
A Free Syrian Army fighter fires an anti-aircraft weapon at what they claim are warplanes loyal to Syria's president Bashar Al-Assad in Mork town. Reuters

Ruth Sherlock Gaziantep, Turkey

PRESIDENT Bashar al-Assad is using chemical weapons against civilian targets in Syria, a scientific analysis of samples taken from multiple gas attacks has shown.

In the first independent testing of its kind, soil samples from the scene of three recent attacks were collected by trained individuals and analysed by a chemical warfare expert.

They showed that chlorine and ammonia gas had been used in strikes on two villages in Idlib province earlier this month, said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of the Army's chemical and biological warfare defences. The Geneva Protocol, signed by Syria in 1968, bans the "use in war" of any "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases".

The attacks were carried out by military helicopters, which dropped barrel bombs loaded with gas. In some cases, the weapons carried canisters marked with their chemical contents.

Syria's regime is the only combatant in the civil war which possesses helicopters. "We have unequivocally proved that the regime has used chlorine and ammonia against its own civilians in the last two to three weeks," said Mr de Bretton-Gordon. As the results of these tests were being made public, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced that it would send inspectors to Syria to investigate the gas attacks.

The Syrian regime promised to accept this mission and provide its security.

The regime had previously agreed to surrender its chemical weapons after a sarin gas attack in Damascus killed 1,400 people last August. But the evidence shows that Assad's forces then resorted to using other types of chemical weapon.

In the past two weeks, eight gas attacks have been carried out against rebel-held towns and villages in Idlib province. Tests conducted by 'The Daily Telegraph' confirm that chlorine and ammonia gas were used against the villages of Kafr Zita on April 11 and April 18 and Talmenes on April 21.

At least three people were killed and hundreds injured. The tests were based on soil samples collected from the locations by Dr Ahmad, a Syrian doctor whose real identity cannot be disclosed.

He had been trained in sample collection by Mr de Bretton-Gordon, now director of Secure Bio, a private firm.

Dr Ahmad also supplied video footage showing people suffering symptoms typical of poisoning by chlorine and ammonia gas: sore eyes, irritated skin, difficult breathing and a bloody foaming from the mouth.

"I had to verify that the samples had the complete chain of evidence, so that the video footage, stills photography, and GPS locations taken by Dr Ahmad in collecting the samples marries up – and it does," said Mr de Bretton-Gordon.

"The samples were kept along the rules that the OPCW require. They were presented in perfect condition required so that we can test them."

In tests conducted for 'The Daily Telegraph', Mr de Bretton-Gordon tested them for chlorine and ammonia in the Turkish town of Gaziantep. "In each of the samples we have found evidence of chlorine," he said. "The samples indicate that ammonia has also been used in Kafr Zita."

Eliot Higgins, an expert on the weapons used in Syria's civil war, said: "Reports from all towns and villages attacked with chlorine and ammonia agree the chemical barrel bombs were dropped from helicopters."

He added: "The remains of the barrel bombs even suggest improvements have been made to make them more efficient – and it seems to me, short of multiple towns and villages conspiring to lie about the nature of the attack, the Syrian air force was responsible."

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