SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association)- The world’s chemical weapons watchdog has confirmed the findings of an independent investigation by the Telegraph showing the continued “systematic” use of chemical weapons against civilian populations in Syria.
Earlier this year, an investigation by this newspaper exclusively revealed that the Syrian regime had continued to use chlorine gas in its fight against the opposition, despite having previously made an international commitment to give up its chemical arsenal.
Working with trained experts, in April the Telegraph collected soil samples from villages in northern Syria following reports they had been attacked by barrel bombs – dropped from military helicopters – containing a noxious substance. In the first independent investigation of its kind, those soil samples were tested by a chemical weapons expert, who found strong traces of chlorine gas and ammonia.
On Wednesday, a report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), following an investigation by its own fact-finding mission, concluded that it has “compelling confirmation” that a toxic chemical has been used “repeatedly” as a weapon in Syria.
The report’s findings showed that chlorine was used in on the villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zeta in northern Syria.
The samples taken by the Telegraph from Kafr Zita, following attacks on the 11 and 18 April, and from Talmanes had all shown positive for chlorine and for high levels of ammonia.
Hamish de-Bretton Gordon, who tested the samples for this newspaper said on Wednesday: “I’m very pleased that our conclusions are now being endorsed in this way. Now is the time to make sure this never happens again.”
The OPCW report fails to ascribe blame for the attacks.
But video footage and eyewitness testimony gathered by the Telegraph in April showed that the chlorine gas was deployed in barrels, dropped from helicopters. The Syrian government is the only force in Syria in possession of such airpower.
Philip Hammond, the British foreign secretary, condemned the Assad regime’s use of chlorine gas.
“The systematic and repeated use of chlorine in northern Syria and the consistent reports from witnesses of the presence of helicopters at the times of the attacks leave little doubt as to the Assad regime’s culpability,” said a Foreign Office statement.
The attacks in April this year came after Damascus had agreed last September to allow the OPCW to remove Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons from the country.
This concession narrowly averted foreign intervention against Bashar al-Assad, following a chemical attack last August that killed up to 1,200 people in Ghouta, a rebel held area of Damascus.
While chlorine, a toxic industrial gas, is not specifically classified as a chemical weapon and not included on the list of toxins that were removed from Syria by the OPCW, its use as a weapon is a contravention of international law.
“The findings of the latest OPCW report corroborate allegations that the Assad regime is continuing to use chemical weapons in Syria, in violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention,” said the Foreign Office statement.
The toxins were dropped on villages behind rebel front lines. In many cases locals said the families of rebel fighters had been resident in the area.
Dozens of women and children fell victims to the attacks.
The Telegraph obtained the X-rays of the lungs of 16-year-old Maryuma Hashash who died in one such attack, her respiratory system burning and then filling with liquid.
The Syrian regime has continued to use noxious substances as weapons, usually in territory where opposition rebels are making gains.
The OPCW said the fact-finding mission would continue its work as there was “a spate of new allegations” of chlorine attacks in Syria in August.