A new team created by a global watchdog for the use of chemical weapons is set to investigate nine alleged attacks perpetrated by the Syrian regime during the country’s ongoing conflict, Reuters reported today.
The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), established in 1997 in order to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty on the issue, is backed by the United Nations (UN) and until now has only had the authority to state whether chemical attacks actually occurred without saying who conducted them.
In a move that has given the organisation further labelling potential, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) was created in June last year by the OPCW’s member states and has now identified the locations in which it will conduct its first investigations in the coming three years. The incidents of chemical weapons attacks that the IIT will be investigating were conducted between 2014 and 2018.
The team was created by a proposal led by Britain after the abundance of reports of chemical weapons atrocities in the Syrian conflict, and was supported by the United States (US) and the European Union (EU), but was opposed by Syria, Russia and Iran, as well as their allies in the conflict.
Despite being backed by the UN, the team was refused visas by the Syrian government, OPCW chief Fernando Arias told member states last month.
Throughout the four years of conflict which the team plan to investigate, one of the most prominent of the chemical weapons attacks was that on Douma in eastern Ghouta, east of the capital Damascus. In April last year, as the regime was regaining its footing with the help of Russia after years of territorial defeats to opposition groups, chemical nerve agents such as sarin and chloride were released into the area, killing at least 42 people and injuring hundreds more.
President Bashar Al-Assad and his ally, Russia, have consistently denied their involvement in the attack, though the regime has been cited by many as the most likely perpetrator to hold and release the chemicals in the desperate fight for the area. The US also stated “with confidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons.”
Earlier in the conflict, the regime had joined the Chemical Weapons Convention and had agreed to completely destroy its chemical weapons capabilities. Over five years later, however, Syria has acknowledged that it continued to research and develop nerve agents, and has not yet fully disclosed its chemical weapons programme.
Sabine Nolke, Canada’s ambassador to the OPCW, told delegates attending meetings at the OPCW in The Hague this week that “this adds to the growing evidence of deliberately false declarations by Syria, destruction of possible evidence, and the alarming likelihood that Syria continues to possess” chemical agents banned under international law.
As well as the Douma attack, the team will investigate two attacks in Al-Tamanah in the northwestern region of Idlib and one in Kafr-Zita in northern Hama, both in 2014. Along with one in Marea in northern Aleppo in 2015, three attacks in Ltamenah, also in Hama, in 2017, and one in Saraqib, Idlib, in 2018.