Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war

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Some of the victims of the Ghouta attack 21 August 2013

Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War has been confirmed by the United Nations. The deadliest attacks were the Ghouta attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the Khan al-Assal attack in the suburbs of Aleppo in March 2013. Several other attacks have been alleged, reported and/or investigated.

A U.N. fact-finding mission and a UNHRC Commission of Inquiry have simultaneously investigated the attacks. The U.N. mission found likely use of the nerve agent sarin in the case of Khan Al-Asal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013), Ghouta (21 August 2013), Jobar (24 August 2013) and Ashrafiyat Sahnaya (25 August 2013). The UNHRC commission later confirmed the use of sarin in the Khan al-Asal, Saraqib and Ghouta attacks, but did not mention the Jobar and the Ashrafiyat Sahnaya attacks.

The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile.

In August 2016, a confidential United Nations report explicitly blamed the Syrian military of Bashar al-Assad for dropping chemical weapons on the towns of Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015.[1]

Background[edit]

The use of chemical weapons must be seen in the context of the Syrian Civil War. On 20 August 2012, President Barack Obama used the phrase "red line"[2] in reference to the use of chemical weapons. On 6 September 2013 a bill was filed to authorize the use of military force against the Syrian military, mainly in response to the use of sarin in the Ghouta attack on 21 August 2013.[3] On 9 September 2013, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the air strikes could be averted if Syria turned over "every single bit" of its chemical weapons stockpiles.[4] Hours after Kerry's statement, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia had suggested to Syria that it relinquish its chemical weapons.[5] The Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem immediately welcomed the proposal.[5][6]

Prior to September 2013 the Syrian government had not publicly admitted to possessing chemical weapons, although Western intelligence services believed it to hold one of the world's largest stockpiles.[7]

Incidents[edit]

The map marks the position of reported chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian Civil War. Yellow markers indicate chlorine attacks. Red indicate a more deadly chemical weapon agent.

Other related incidents[edit]

In December 2012, the chemical plant SYSACCO 29 kilometers (18 mi) east of Aleppo was taken by rebel fighters from the Al-Nusra Front. The factory produces chlorine among other chemicals.[8] On 5 November 2014, the Syrian UN-ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, said "terrorist organizations stole about 200 tons of [chlorine gas] from" the factory.[9]

On 30 May 2013, Turkish newspapers reported that Turkish security forces had arrested Al-Nusra Front fighters in the southern provinces of Mersin and Adana near the Syrian border and confiscated 2 kg of sarin gas.[10] The Turkish Ambassador to Moscow later said that tests showed the chemical seized was not sarin, but anti-freeze (anti-freeze is either Methanol or Isopropyl alcohol).[11] In September six of those arrested in May were charged with attempting to acquire chemicals which could be used to produce sarin; the indictment said that it was "possible to produce sarin gas by combining the materials in proper conditions."[12]

According to Syria, on 1 June 2013, the Syrian Army seized two cylinders holding the nerve agent sarin in an area controlled by opposition fighters. The Syrian government declared the two cylinders "as abandoned chemical weapons" and told the OPCW that "the items did not belong to" them.[13] On 14 June 2014, the Joint OPCW-UN Mission confirmed that the cylinders contained sarin.[13] On 7 July 2014, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon informed the U.N. Security Council about the findings.[13]

Reported chemical weapons attacks[edit]

The table below lists the reported attacks and the main points. See the main articles for details.[N 1]

Date Location Governorate Impact points Civilian victims Soldier/militias victims CW-agent Main article Notes
Time of day Coordinates Controlled by Deaths Non-fatal Deaths Non-fatal Unit
17 October 2012 Salqin Idlib Reported by the Government of France.[14](p4)[N 2]
23 December 2012 Al-Bayadah Homs Free Syrian Army 5 App. 100 Most likely Agent 15 Reported by the Government of France, UK and Qatar,[14](p3) and also Haaretz[15] and Foreign Policy.[16][N 2]
13 March 2013 Darayya Rif Dimashq Reported by the Government of UK and Qatar.[14](p4)[N 2]
14 March 2013 Otaybah Rif Dimashq Reported by Le Monde.[17]
19 March 2013 Khan al-Asal Aleppo Early morning 36°10′02″N 37°02′21″E / 36.167222°N 37.039167°E / 36.167222; 37.039167 Syrian Army 19 107 1 17 Syrian Army Sarin Khan al-Assal chemical attack Reported by the Governments of Syria, Russia, France, UK and US. Confirmed by the U.N.[14]
19 March 2013 Otaybah Rif Dimashq Reported by the Governments of France and UK.[14](p6)[N 2]
24 March 2013 Adra Rif Dimashq Reported by the Government of UK.[14](p4)[N 2]
11 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by Le Monde.[17]
12 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by Le Monde.[17][N 2]
13 April 2013 Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo Kurdish forces 3 more than a dozen Reported by the Government of US.[14](p4)[N 2]
13 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by the Government of France.[14](p5)[N 2]
14 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by the Government of France.[14](p5)[N 2]
25 April 2013 Darayya Rif Dimashq Reported by the Government of UK.[14](p4)[N 2]
29 April 2013 Saraqib Idlib A:35°52′02″N 36°47′59″E / 35.8672041°N 36.7995858°E / 35.8672041; 36.7995858
B:35°51′41″N 36°47′49″E / 35.8613742°N 36.7970538°E / 35.8613742; 36.7970538
C:35°51′15″N 36°47′51″E / 35.8542831°N 36.7974508°E / 35.8542831; 36.7974508
Free Syrian Army 1 10 2 Free Syrian Army Sarin/Tear gas Reported by the Governments of UK and France.[14](p4) Allegedly some of the hand grenade–type munitions contained tear gas, whereas other grenades were filled with sarin. Ref. U.N.[14]
14 May 2013 Qasr Abu Samrah Hama Reported by the Governments of US.[14](p5)[N 2]
23 May 2013 Adra Rif Dimashq Reported by the Governments of US.[14](p5)[N 2]
5 August 2013 Adra Rif Dimashq Ref. Human Rights Watch.[18]
21 August 2013 Zamalka/Ein Tarma Rif Dimashq Between 02:00 and 03:00 Ein Tarma:

A:33°31′14″N 36°21′23″E / 33.5205744°N 36.3563669°E / 33.5205744; 36.3563669
B:33°31′15″N 36°21′26″E / 33.5207063°N 36.3573325°E / 33.5207063; 36.3573325

Zamalka:
C:33°31′17″N 36°20′53″E / 33.5213347°N 36.3481593°E / 33.5213347; 36.3481593
D:33°31′18″N 36°21′08″E / 33.5217908°N 36.3522577°E / 33.5217908; 36.3522577
E:33°31′21″N 36°21′34″E / 33.5224617°N 36.3594246°E / 33.5224617; 36.3594246
F:33°31′25″N 36°21′16″E / 33.5234724°N 36.3544142°E / 33.5234724; 36.3544142
G:33°31′26″N 36°21′45″E / 33.5238391°N 36.3625681°E / 33.5238391; 36.3625681
H:33°31′29″N 36°21′40″E / 33.5246083°N 36.3612056°E / 33.5246083; 36.3612056
I:33°31′30″N 36°21′30″E / 33.5250734°N 36.3584054°E / 33.5250734; 36.3584054
J:33°31′33″N 36°21′34″E / 33.5257263°N 36.3593173°E / 33.5257263; 36.3593173
K:33°31′33″N 36°21′45″E / 33.5257352°N 36.3625896°E / 33.5257352; 36.3625896
L:33°31′39″N 36°21′39″E / 33.5274345°N 36.360873°E / 33.5274345; 36.360873

734 Sarin Ghouta chemical attack Reported by multiple U.N. Member States.[14][18][19][20]
21 August 2013 Muadamiyat al-Sham Rif Dimashq App. 05:00 Four 140mm rockets impacted next to the Rawda Mosque (33°27′37″N 36°11′50″E / 33.4602966°N 36.1972287°E / 33.4602966; 36.1972287). Three 140mm rockets impacted app. 500 meters to the east of the Rawda Mosque (33°27′36″N 36°12′09″E / 33.4601064°N 36.2025046°E / 33.4601064; 36.2025046). 103 Sarin Ghouta chemical attack Reported by multiple U.N. Member States.[14](p5)[18][19][20]
22 August 2013 Al-Bahariyah Rif Dimashq App. 17:00 33°31′43″N 36°31′32″E / 33.528653°N 36.525669°E / 33.528653; 36.525669 Syrian Army 16 Syrian Army Reported by the Government of Syria.[14](p5) The U.N. mission investigated the attack, but did not find reliable information to support the allegation that a CW-agent were used.[14]
24 August 2013 Jobar Damascus App. 11:00 33°32′03″N 36°20′42″E / 33.5342371°N 36.3450721°E / 33.5342371; 36.3450721 Syrian Army 24 Syrian Army Sarin Ref. U.N.[14]
25 August 2013 Ashrafiyat Sahnaya Rif Dimashq App. 20:00 33°26′47″N 36°15′05″E / 33.4463166°N 36.2513208°E / 33.4463166; 36.2513208 Syrian Army 5 Syrian Army Sarin Ref. U.N.[14]
10 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama Midnight, night to 11 April Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
11 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 18:00 – 19:00 hrs A:35°22′24″N 36°35′27″E / 35.3734621°N 36.590867°E / 35.3734621; 36.590867
B:35°22′25″N 36°35′59″E / 35.373742°N 36.599772°E / 35.373742; 36.599772
C:35°22′38″N 36°35′59″E / 35.3771188°N 36.5998149°E / 35.3771188; 36.5998149
Syrian opposition 2 107 affected, 5 seriously (12 patients) Chlorine 2014 Kafr Zita chemical attack Ref.OPCW,[21] UNHRC,[22] HRW,[23] SOHR, VDC and SANA.[24][25][26][27][28][29]
11 April 2014 Harasta Rif Dimashq Ref.[30][31]
12 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 21:00 – 22:00 Syrian opposition 5 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21] and UNHRC.[22]
12 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib 22:45 Residential house, 100 m from Western school Syrian opposition 25 Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21] and UNHRC.[22]
13 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib App. 22:30 Syrian opposition 112 affeted Chlorine Ref. Human Rights Watch[23]
14 April 2014 Halfaya Hama 23:00 4 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
16 April 2014 Harasta Rif Dimashq Ref. The Times of Israel.[32]
16 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 22:00 Al-Zowar region Syrian opposition 4 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21] and UNHRC.[22]
18 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib App. 22:00 Residential house, 150 m from medical unit Syrian opposition 4 70 Chlorine Ref. OPCW,[21] UNHRC[22] and HRW.[23]
18 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 22:30 Syrian opposition App. 100 affected (35 patients) Chlorine Ref. OPCW,[21] UNHRC[22] and HRW.[23][29]
21 April 2014 Talmenes Idlib Around 10:30 to 10:45. Two “barrel bombs” struck two houses 100 m from each other, in the neighbourhood around the big mosque (35°38′16″N 36°44′21″E / 35.6376885°N 36.7392683°E / 35.6376885; 36.7392683). Syrian opposition 3 App. 133 (4 severely) Chlorine Ref. OPCW,[21] UNHRC[22] and Human Rights Watch.[23][29]
22 April 2014 Darayya Rif Dimashq Ref. The Daily Star.[33]
29 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib Night to 30 April Residential house, 20 m from northern school Syrian opposition 35 Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21] and UNHRC.[22]
19 May 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 20:00 Syrian opposition 1 130 affected (2 patients) Chlorine Ref. Al Arabiya.[34][35]
21 May 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib Chlorine Ref. International Business Times.[36]
21 May 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 20:00 Syrian opposition 4 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21]
22 May 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib 10:00–11:00 Residential house Syrian opposition 4 12 Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
22 May 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 20:00 Syrian opposition dozens (38 patients) Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21] and CNN.[25]
25 May 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib Night to 26 May Residential house, 50 m from main road Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
29 May 2014 Al-Lataminah Hama Night 17 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
12 July 2014 Avdiko Aleppo Kurdish forces 3 Kurdish forces Most likely Mustard gas Ref. The Huffington Post[37] and the MERIA Journal.[38]
27 July 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 19:00 Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
21 August 2014 Jobar Damascus 6 Ref. ARA News.[39]
28 August 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 21:30 – 22:00 Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW[21] and Channel News Asia.[40]
30 August 2014 Kafr Zita Hama Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[21]
15 February 2015 Darayya Rif Dimashq Around noon 33°27′34″N 36°14′21″E / 33.4594664°N 36.2392831°E / 33.4594664; 36.2392831
50 to 100 m northwest of the Shrine of Sukayna
Syrian Army 4 Syrian Army Possibly sarin Five to eight government soldiers were allegedly exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance. Ref.[29][41]
21 February 2015 Hayan Aleppo Syrian opposition Noxious gas Ref. civil defence team.[42]
9 March 2015 Mzeireb Daraa Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. anti-regime activists.[43]
16 March 2015 Qmenas Idlib Around 20:30 – 20:45 Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa 70 affected, 1 seriously Most likely Chlorine 20 of the victims were from the western neighborhood of Sarmin. The wind allegedly carried the gas from Qmenas to Sarmin. Ref. MESOP.[29][44]
16 March 2015 Sarmin Idlib Around 22:30 – 22:45 Two barrel bombs were allegedly dropped by a helicopter into the southeastern neighborhood of Sarmin (Kournesh). Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa 6 30 affected, ranged between moderate and severe. Most likely Chlorine Ref. LCC and SOHR.[29][44][45][46][47]
23 March 2015 Binnish Idlib About 19:30 Two barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas were dropped on Binnish. Syrian opposition At least 30 affected Chlorine Ref. The Times.[29][48]
24 March 2015 Qmenas Idlib Chlorine Ref. activists.[49]
24 March 2015 Binnish Idlib Early evening 30 wounded Chlorine Ref. activists.[49][50]
28 June 2015 Tell Brak Al-Hasakah 17 projectiles impacted south of the village. Kurdish forces 12 Kurdish forces Mustard gas Ref. CAR.[51][52][53][54][55][56]
28 June 2015 Al-Hasakah Al-Hasakah 7 projectiles impacted in the al-Salehiyah neighborhood. Kurdish forces Kurdish forces Mustard gas Ref. CAR.[51][52][53][54][55][56]
21 August 2015 Mare' Aleppo About 19:30 Islamic Front 1 (a baby) Around 30 Mustard gas At least 50 mortar and artillery shells were fired at residential areas. At least half of them contained poisonous gas. Ref.[29][57][58][59][60][61][62]
7 April 2016 Aleppo, Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo People's Protection Units 23 100+ Unknown A district of Aleppo in Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters have been the target of a chemical attack by Islamic terrorists. Videos show a yellow gas rises above the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood.[63] Islamist group Jaysh al-Islam claimed responsibility and stated that they will punish whoever used the chemical weapon.[64]
15 June 2016 Eastern Ghouta Damascus Syrian Army None Several Syrian Army Unknown Reported by Syrian Army.[65]
25 August 2016 Dandaniya Aleppo Around 17:00 Syrian Democratic Forces Dozens Unknown Reported by local sources.[66][67][68]
8 October 2016 Aleppo, Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo Early morning People's Protection Units 3 4+ Unknown Unknown People's Protection Units Noxious gas Local sources reported an attack by elephant rockets loaded with chemical substances.[69]
25 November 2016 Aleppo, Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo 16:35 People's Protection Units 3 patients Unknown Unknown People's Protection Units Unknown The Kurdish Red Crescent reported taking 3 patients with chemical wounds after the area was hit by shells suspected to be loaded with poisonous chemicals.[70]

Investigations[edit]

The UN mission to investigate alleged use of chemical weapons[edit]

The United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic was a fact-finding mission to investigate possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. On 16 September 2013 the mission published a report with focus on the Ghouta attacks.[20] On 12 December 2013, the UN mission delivered its final report.[14]

The UNHRC commission of inquiry[edit]

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22 March 2011 to investigate human rights violations during the Syrian civil war. In its report dated 12 February 2014 they confirmed the use of sarin in the case of Khan Al-Assal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013) and Al-Ghouta (21 August 2013). The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile.[19]

In its report dated 13 August 2014 they accused Government forces of using chlorine gas in 8 incidents in Idlib and Hama governorates in April 2014.[22]

The Russian Khan al-Asal investigation[edit]

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said that its Syrian ally had asked Russian experts to look into the Khan al-Assal attack. A Russian team investigated the Khan al-Asal incident on 19 March 2013.[14] The Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a report with analysis of the samples taken at the site to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 9 July 2013.[14] Churkin said the chemical agent was carried by a "Bashair-3 unguided projectile", which was produced by the Basha'ir al-Nasr Brigade, a rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.[71]

The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria[edit]

On 29 April 2014, the Director General Ahmet Üzümcü of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the creation of an OPCW mission to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine gas for hostile purposes in Syria.[72] The Syrian Government has agreed to the mission.[73]

On 27 May 2014, members of the mission were ambushed and briefly held by gunmen in rebel-held territory as it headed toward Kafr Zita to investigate the alleged chlorine gas attacks.[74] According to the Associated Press, the OPCW said that the captive members of the mission were later "released after the intervention by Syria's main opposition group."[74] The opposition Hama Media Centre said the attack on the convoy was carried out by President Bashar Assad's forces.[75]

In its third report dated 18 December 2014, the mission concluded that chlorine was used in the villages of Talmenes, Al-Tamanah and Kafr Zita, but did not assign blame.[21]

The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism[edit]

On 7 August 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2235 (2015) to establish a joint investigation mechanism to identify the perpetrators responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The resolution was drafted by the United States, and adopted by all 15 members of the Security Council.[76][77]

Other allegations[edit]

In February 2012 a defector, a lieutenant who worked in the chemical weapons department, claimed that "BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people’s nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr." He said that some Syrian soldiers had been supplied with gas masks for protection.[78]

In 2015 the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria disclosed previously undeclared traces of sarin and VX precursor compounds in a military research site where use of those compounds had not been previously declared.[79][80]

In September 2015 a US official stated that ISIS was manufacturing and using mustard agent in Syria and Iraq, and had an active chemical weapons research team.[81][82] In February 2016, the CIA Director John O. Brennan said on 60 Minutes that there was "a number of instances where ISIL has used chemical munitions on the battlefield".[83]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ All times given are given in Eastern European Time (EET), or UTC+02:00 unless otherwise stated.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l In their final report, the U.N. mission stated: "The United Nations Mission did not receive sufficient or credible information in respect of the alleged incidents in Salquin on 17 October 2012, Homs on 23 December 2012, Darayya on 13 March and 25 April 2013, Otaybah on 19 March 2013, Adra on 24 March and 23 May 2013, Jobar between 11 and 14 April 2013, and Qasr Abu Samrah on 14 May 2013."[14](p10)

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