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Chemical weaponsAssad regime behind April 2017 sarin attack on Sunni civilians: UN

Published 27 October 2017

A new report, released Thursday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN chemical weapons watchdog, has found that the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were behind the deadly chemical weapons attack which killed more than ninety people in the village of Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017. The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against Sunni civilian triggered a U.S. retaliation – fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise-missiles launched against the airbase from which the planes carrying the chemicals took off for the mission.

A new report, released Thursday by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the UN chemical weapons watchdog, has found that the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were behind the deadly chemical weapons attack which killed more than ninety people in the village of Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017.

The Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against Sunni civilian triggered a U.S. retaliation – fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise-missiles launched against the airbase from which the planes carrying the chemicals took off for the mission.

The UN and OPCW said that experts are “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at on 4 April 2017.”

CNN reports that in addition to the nearly 100 killed, dozens were rushed to hospital in the rebel-held Idlib province after the incident, with symptoms such as convulsions, suffocation, coughing blood, and foaming at the mouth – all consistent with either sarin gas or chlorine exposure.

Assad was supposed to give up his chemical arsenal in 2013, but Israeli and Western intelligence were able to ascertain that, in violation of the U.S.-Russia agreement about Syria’s chemical weapons, the Assad regimes kept stocks of sarin and VX munitions and precursors.

Russia has used its veto power at the UN Security Council to shield the Syrian government from measures aimed to punish the Assad regime for its repeated use of chemicals against Sunni civilians. Earlier this week, Moscow vetoed a resolution extending the mandate of the UN and OPCW’s Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) into the use of chemical weapons in Syria’s war. 

The new JIM report, however, backs up preliminary findings by U.K., U.S., French, and Israeli intelligence that it was a Syrian warplane that dropped sarin on the town.

“Britain condemns this appalling breach of the rules of war and calls on the international community to unite to hold Assad’s regime accountable,” Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in response to the report.

His comments were echoed by U.S. ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, who also reprimanded Russia for shielding the Syrian government.  “In spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now,” she said. “It is the security council’s role to make it clear that “the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated.” 

A statement from the Russian mission to the UN said “We have started a thorough study of this paper, which is of very complex technical nature.”

There has been no formal response from the Syrian authorities. 

OPCW has concluded that Assad’s government is responsible for several chemical weapons attacks against Sunni civilians since Syria was supposedly disarmed of chemical weapons.