HRW: Strong evidence Syrian regime used chlorine gas as a weapon
There is strong evidence suggesting that the Syrian government used chlorine gas on three towns in mid-April in direct violation of the chemical weapons treaty that Damascus signed last year, Human Rights Watch reported Tuesday.
"Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in northern Syria in mid-April 2014," the human rights watchdog said, Agence France Presse (AFP) reported.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) compiled their report using interviews with witnesses and medical personnel, videos of the alleged attacks and photographs of the remains of barrel bombs used on civilian areas by the regime.
Doctors who spoke to HRW and had treated victims of the chlorine gas reported that at least 11 people had died in the attacks and "symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine" were seen in nearly 500 people, according to AFP.
The New York-based watchdog documented chlorine attacks on the towns of Kafr Zita in the central area of Hama on April 11 and 18, Al Temana in Idlib province on April 13 and 19 and Telmans, also in Idlib province, on April 21, AFP reported.
Opposition sources in Syria have repeatedly reported that the regime has used chlorine gas and that it is dropped on civilian areas by barrel bombs from helicopters, which only the government have access to. Syrian state television has acknowledged one such attack in Kafr Zita but blamed it on the jihadist, Al Qaeda-linked Al Nusra Front.
According to HRW, a video showing the remants of barrel bombs at the site of various attacks showed cannisters with the code CL2, the symbol for chlorine gas, AFP reported.
The human rights group said that it could not “independently confirm” that the chlorine-marked cannisters shown on the video were those embedded in barrel bombs dropped by regime helicopters adding that it was unlikely the footage was false since doctors reported injuries in the areas “consistent with exposure to chlorine”.
"Syria's apparent use of chlorine gas as a weapon -- not to mention targeting of civilians -- is a plain violation of international law," said HRW deputy Middle East and North Africa director Nadim Houry, AFP reported.
"This is one more reason for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court."
As a part of a deal to surrender its chemical weapons to the international community after being accused of using sarin gas on civilians last August, Damascus joined the Chemical Weapons Convention last year, according to AFP.
Under the convention, possessing chlorine is not a violation but using the gas as a weapon is. In response to the report, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons watchdog said it will send a team to Syria to investigate the chlorine attack claims.