The report, released Wednesday by the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), accuses the Syrian Air Force of having used sarin twice to attack the city of Ltamenah in late March 2017. It also found that planes had bombed the same city with chlorine gas in the same week.
The three attacks took place days before the infamous sarin gas attack on the nearby town of Khan Sheikhoun, which produced some of the most shocking images of the Nine Years War and one of its most hotly contested accounts .
OPCW investigators found that the three attacks on Ltamenah took place on March 24, 25 and 30; the first and third strikes were made by SU-22 jets and the second by a helicopter. The three planes took off from nearby Shayrat air base.
The investigation determined the type of ammunition used to deliver the poison gas, as well as the names and ranks of the Syrian officers who ordered the attacks, although it removed their identity from the final report.
The report said that all of the alternative scenarios for the victims, which affected more than 80 people, had been examined, including whether the attacks had been organized. But they were dismissed because of the weight of evidence to support the conclusion that Syrian pilots had dropped sarin over the city on the orders of senior officers.
In the aftermath of the Khan Sheikhoun bombing, which killed 89 people, loyalists from the Syrian regime and the Russian government rushed to tell a story that distressed scenes of the dead and dying were staged by rescuers. Without focusing on Khan Sheikhoun in the report, the OPCW said similar allegations concerning Ltamenah had been investigated. He noted that the victims’ testimonies had been corroborated by interviews, which had also been supported by chemical analyzes of samples taken at the sites.
Jerry Smith, former OPCW investigator, said the investigation was an important moment in an ongoing effort to bring the perpetrators of war crimes in Syria to justice.
“To get to this point is long overdue for much of the international community,” he said. ” He [the report] named names, identified organizations, and gave a high level of specificity to at least three of these events. I suspect that the United States and others will request a meeting of the OPCW executive council. Russia has no veto there, so it will only be a straight vote. “
Until last year, the OPCW was not mandated to blame the chemical attacks. However, a 2018 resolution called for the organization to be authorized, and the findings are the result of a new body within the organization, known as the investigation and identification team.
Hadi Al Khatib, founder and director of Syria Archive, said: “Now that the report has explicitly identified the Syrian government as the perpetrator of these attacks, strong cooperation among states is necessary to ensure that these atrocities are not punished with impunity unpunished.
“It is time for the competent prosecutors to jointly investigate Syria’s chemical weapons program and issue arrest warrants against senior Syrian government officials.”
Ltamenah, at the time of the attack, was an important logistical hub for opposition groups that had launched devastating attacks on the city held by the Hama regime in previous weeks. Ltamenah and Khan Sheikhoun were used as a supply point for militias opposed to the Assad regime. With considerable assistance from the Russian Air Force, the two cities have now been taken over by Syrian and Allied forces.
Additional reporting by Mohammed Rasool