Syria: new chemical claims under investigation

The United States and Turkey have said they are following up on renewed accusations that the Syrian regime continues to use chemical weapons against civilians. If true, the government's use of such weapons would be a violation of its agreement with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, and the Chemical Weapons Convention, both of which it signed last September. Over the past few months, members of the Syrian opposition, including the main umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition, have accused the regime of using chemical weapons, mainly in the suburbs of Damascus, in areas such as Jobar and Harasta. "There have been at least four such attacks in recent months, involving high doses of chlorine and pesticides," said Sinan Hatehet, director of the Coalition's media office. He added that although the attacks only killed around 15 people, the chemicals were primarily being used as a psychological weapon.

The most recent apparent chemical attack came April 11 at Kfar Zeita, a rebel-held village in Hama province some 200 kilometers north of Damascus. Videos posted by opposition activists from Kfar Zeita mirrored earlier images that sparked a global outcry, showing pale-faced men, women and children gasping for breath at a field hospital.

Chlorine gas is classified as a chemical weapon, while pesticides with the same structure as nerve agents such as sarin—used in last year's Ghouta attack—could be classed as "improvised" chemical weapons, according to Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, CEO of SecureBio, a UK-based Chemical Biological Radiological and Nuclear consultancy firm and former commander of the British military's CBRN forces. (AP, 12; Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, April 10)