War in Syria: the Syrian air force behind the chemical attacks of 2017, according to the OPCW


Remnant of a yellow gas bottle that struck a makeshift hospital in al-Latamina on March 25, 2017 according to a member of the Syrian civil defense

Image copyright
Abd al-Munaf Faraj al-Saleh via Human Rights Watch


Rescuer sent Human Rights Watch a photo of a distorted yellow gas bottle that he said struck the roof of Latamina hospital on March 25, 2017

The chemical weapons watchdog concluded that the Syrian Air Force had carried out three attacks in March 2017 involving the nerve agent Sarin or chlorine.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said that 106 people had been affected by the incidents in the opposition-held village of Latamina.

The latest findings were the first to be released by the new Investigation and Identification Team (IIT).

The government denied having ever used chemical weapons.

However, a joint UN-OPCW mission also accused government forces of using Sarin in an attack on the city of Khan Sheikhoun, which reportedly killed more than 80 people, just days after the incidents in Latamina.

He also concluded that government forces used chlorine as a weapon on other occasions during the civil war.

IIT was created by OPCW member states last year after Russia – whose forces support the Syrian army – veto a United Nations Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of the joint mission.

He was responsible for identifying the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, in accordance with the OPCW’s separate fact-finding mission.

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For its first report, IIT focused on incidents in Latamina, about 40 km (25 miles) northwest of the city of Hama, in late March 2017.

Investigators interviewed witnesses, analyzed samples and remains taken from the incident sites, examined the symptoms of victims and medical personnel, examined the images and consulted experts, according to the OPCW.

Based on the information obtained, IIT concluded that there were reasonable grounds to believe that:

  • On March 24, a Su-22 military aircraft belonging to the 50th brigade of the 22nd Air Division of the Syrian Air Force, departing from Shayrat air base, dropped an M4000 air bomb containing Sarin in the south de la Latamina, affecting 16 people
  • On March 25, a Syrian Air Force helicopter from Hama airbase dropped a cylinder on Latamina hospital. The cylinder pierced the roof, ruptured and released chlorine, affecting 30 people
  • On March 30, a Su-22 belonging to the 50th brigade of the 22nd Air Division of the Syrian Air Force, departing from Shayrat air base, dropped an M4000 air bomb containing Sarin in the south of the Latamina, affecting 60 people

IIT coordinator Santiago Oñate-Laborde said: “Attacks of such a strategic nature would have taken place only on the orders of the higher authorities of the military command of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

OPCW Director General Fernando Arias stressed that IIT was “not a judicial or quasi-judicial body with the power to assign individual criminal responsibility”.

“It now belongs to [OPCW] The Executive Council and the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention, the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the international community as a whole must take any other measure they deem appropriate and necessary, “he added. .

IIT also requested to investigate six other incidents in which the OPCW fact-finding mission concluded that a toxic chemical was likely used as a weapon.

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They include one in the opposition-held town of Duma on April 7, 2018, which doctors say killed more than 40 people.

The FFM said last year that the data gave “reasonable grounds to believe that the use of a toxic chemical as a weapon had taken place”, and that “the chemical contained reactive chlorine”. But he did not blame because it was not within his mandate to do so.

The United States, the United Kingdom and France have accused Syrian government forces of using chemical weapons in Duma. But the government and Russia have said the incident was “staged” by rescuers.


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