The regime of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad and its affiliated forces have carried out more than 300 attacks using chemical weapons over the course of the country’s eight-year civil war.
The statistics were announced by the Global Public Policy Institute (GPPi) yesterday and constitute the most comprehensive, up-to-date findings on the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The study – published by the Washington Post – could be cited as part of possible international war crimes cases against the Syrian regime and Al-Assad.
The Berlin-based policy group said that it had “credibly substantiated 336 uses of chemical weapons, ranging from nerve agents to dangerous chlorine bombs”. GPPi pointed out that “almost all the attacks — 98 per cent — were carried out by the Assad military or its allied forces, including loyalist militias known as the Tiger Forces that are backed by Russia”. The rest of the attacks were attributed Daesh, which once held vast swathes of Syrian territory, the group added.
The institute’s analysis begins on 23 December 2012, months after former US President Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians would be a red line for his administration.
The report’s researchers said that they had derived their findings from witness statements and post-attack analysis, including reports on the effects of apparent chemical agents and how the weapons were delivered to the attack sites. “The Assad regime did not merely ‘get away’ with its use of these banned weapons, but it succeeded in using them for strategic ends,” the report read.
With Syrian opposition forces on the verge of defeat and Gulf Arab states reopening embassies in Syrian capital Damascus, Al-Assad appears to be moving out of diplomatic isolation and looks likely to hold on to his position as president.
The United States remains a powerful opponent of Al-Assad, although Washington holds little leverage over Syria. In December, US President Donald Trump announced plans to withdraw US troops from the war-torn country, with his claims that Daesh has been defeated in the country sparking sharp criticism, even from political allies.
In the aftermath of a 2013 nerve gas attack on the outskirts of Damascus, Obama pulled US warplanes back after a last-minute deal that was supposed to make Al-Assad relinquish his chemical stockpiles. More than 72 tons of chemical weapons were destroyed, but the attacks did not stop. GPPi’s report said many of the subsequent attacks used chlorine, which turns into hydrochloric acid when inhaled and could lead to respiratory system damage and, in some cases, death.
There has been no recorded use of chlorine weapons in Syria since the last US missile strike on 14 April. Syria has only just begun to emerge from a devastating conflict that began in 2011, when the Al-Assad regime cracked down on demonstrators in the context of the Arab Spring uprisings which swept the region.