The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) blames Syria’s army for three poison gas attacks on a location in the northwest of the civil war three years ago. In a report released on Wednesday, OPCW investigators concluded that the Syrian Air Force used sarin and chlorine gas in the bombings of Al-Lataminah in late March 2017. They assume that such attacks could only be carried out on orders from higher ranks of the Syrian military command.
It is the first report from an OPCW investigation commission, which, unlike previous investigations, is also to name the culprits. The investigators had received this mandate against the fierce opposition from Syria and Russia. The two allies reject any government responsibility in Damascus for poison gas attacks.
Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saw the report as an important step in solving these “hideous crimes”. Such a blatant breach of international law should not go unpunished, the SPD politician in Berlin said. The international community must react immediately and ensure that those responsible are held accountable. The Federal Government will press for this in the United Nations Security Council and at the OPCW, Maas emphasized.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States shared OPCW investigators’ conclusions. The announcement also said that the United States condemned the use of chemical weapons and urged the Syrian leadership to immediately stop developing, storing and using them.
Al-Lataminah is now controlled by government supporters, but in 2017 it was part of the rebel area around the city of Idlib in the northwestern part of the civil war, which is still contested today. According to the OPCW, the Syrian Air Force dropped bombs of poison gas over the site on three days at the end of March 2017. Among other things, a hospital was hit. A total of three people died, around 100 were injured, according to the more than 80-page report.
The OPCW investigators also want to deal with other poison gas attacks in Syria in further reports and identify the culprits. They want to investigate the devastating use of chlorine gas on April 7, 2018 in the town of Duma, east of the capital Damascus, in which more than 40 people were killed.
A fact-finding commission from the OPCW had already concluded last year that chlorine gas was probably used in Duma. The Syrian government denies this and spoke of a “staging”. The investigators did not name a guilty party because, unlike today, they had no mandate to do so. Research including the investigative website Bellingcat and the New York Times also saw the Syrian government at work during the bombing of Dumas.
The leadership under President Bashar al-Assad has been held responsible for attacks with chemical weapons on several occasions. In October 2017, a joint investigation team from the UN and the OPCW concluded that Syria’s air force was behind a devastating attack on Chan Shaichun in April, in which more than 80 people were killed. Even then, Syria and Russia rejected all allegations.
The Berlin-based Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) launched a database this week on 345 uses of poison gas in the civil war country. The government was responsible in 98 percent of the cases, said Theresa Lütkefend, one of the people responsible for the project, which was co-financed by Germany. No attack could be attributed to the armed opposition. The institute has held the Islamic State terror militia responsible for the remaining two percent of the attacks since 2012.