The Syrian regime carried out “coordinated chemical attacks on Aleppo”, a report by Human Rights Watch said, calling for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions.
The report published yesterday by the rights agency said that “Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in opposition-controlled parts of Aleppo during battles to retake the city late last year.”
The findings add to mounting evidence of the use of banned chemical weapons in the six-year Syrian civil war and could strengthen calls by Britain, France and the United States for sanctions against Syrian officials.
Government helicopters dropped chlorine bombs “in residential areas in Aleppo on at least eight occasions between November 17 and December 13, 2016,” and “the pattern of the chlorine attacks shows that they were coordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements,” the New York-based group said.
Syria and its ally Russia, which helped state troops in the Aleppo assault, have repeatedly denied using chemical weapons in the conflict. They blame opposition militants seeking to topple the government of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Human Rights Watch said its report, which was based on interviews with witnesses, analysis of videos and photos and social media posts, did not find proof of Russian involvement in the chemical attacks, but noted Moscow’s key role in helping the government retake Aleppo.
However, a separate report by a Washington-based research centre, Atlantic Council, alleged that Moscow targeted civilians.
The report by the Washington think tank challenges Russian claims and shows that hospitals were bombed multiple times. It indicates that Russian aircraft used incendiary munitions and cluster bombs, despite the Kremlin’s denials, and concludes that Syrian forces used chlorine gas on a far greater scale than is commonly believed.
The analysis is presented in a report entitled “Breaking Aleppo” which was compiled using detailed digital forensic technology, satellite imagery, social media, mobile phone calls and eyewitness accounts.
Allegations of war crimes have consistently resurfaced throughout the war in Syria. The UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) assigned an inquiry to identify organisations and individuals responsible for the chemical attacks concluded last October that Syrian government forces had used chlorine as a chemical weapon at least three times in 2014-15. Daesh had used sulphur mustard gas in one attack, it said.
The UN Security Council extended the mandate of the inquiry, known as the Joint Investigative Mission (JIM), until November this year. It is due to issue its next report by Saturday.