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Chemical weapons watchdog: Syrian air force may have dropped chlorine bomb on town in rebel area in 2018

OPCW Headquarters
A logo of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is pictured at its headquarters building on June 24, 2020 in The Hague, Netherlands. [Yuriko Nakao/Getty Images]

The global chemical weapons watchdog has "reasonable grounds to believe" that Syria's air force dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighbourhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region in February 2018, a report released on Monday said, Reuters reported.

There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government. Syria and its military ally Russia have consistently denied using chemical weapons during President Bashar al-Assad's decade-old conflict with rebel forces, saying any such attacks were staged by opponents to make Damascus look like the culprit.

The new report by the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog's investigative arm said no one was killed when the cylinder of chlorine gas, delivered in a barrel bomb, hit the Al Talil neighbourhood in the city of Saraqib in February 2018.

Image of Syrian child receiving treatment after the Assad regime carried out a chemical attack in Idlib, Syria on 4 April 2017

A Syrian child can be seen receiving treatment after the Assad regime carried out a chemical attack in Idlib, Syria on 4 April 2017

However, on the night of Feb. 4, a dozen people were treated for symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning, including nausea, eye irritation, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, it said.

Chlorine is not an internationally banned toxin, but the use of any chemical substance in armed conflict is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, the implementation of which is overseen by the OPCW watchdog based in The Hague.

A crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators by Assad in 2011 mushroomed into civil war, with Russia and Iran supporting his government and the United States, Turkey and some Arab adversaries of Damascus backing some of the many rebel groups.

In April 2020, the OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded that Syrian warplanes and a helicopter had dropped bombs containing chlorine and sarin nerve gas on a village in Syria's Hama region in March 2017.

READ: US ambassador accuses Russia over Syria's use of chemical weapons

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