SYRIAN ARAB REPUBLIC: Witness testimony reveals details of illegal chemical attack on Saraqeb

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15 Feb 2018
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Regional conflict

The Syrian government’s use of internationally banned chemical weapons was laid bare once again on 4 February when a chlorine gas attack on the town of Saraqeb left 11 people in need of emergency treatment, according to testimony gathered by Amnesty International.

The Syria Civil Defence said that barrel bombs containing chlorine gas had been dropped by helicopter and caused the casualties to gasp desperately for air, suffer severe irritation to their skin and eyes, vomit and collapse. The casualties included three Syria Civil Defence volunteers who had rushed to the scene to assist.

The fact that the government feels free to flagrantly carry out such attacks using internationally banned chemical weapons reflects the complete impunity enjoyed by those source of the gas – landed in a field 50 metres from an agricultural warehouse. There was no sign of any military targets in the vicinity of the bombing in Saraqeb in the northwestern province of Idleb.

“We heard people crying for help somewhere on the road and others on the roof of a house. Around eight people were barely able to breathe and coughing non-stop. We gave them oxygen and transferred them to the hospital,” the volunteer said.

A second member of the Syria Civil Defence team in Saraqeb told Amnesty International that he witnessed the casualties being brought to a medical post.

“When they arrived, I saw the rescue team also breathing with difficulty, and they collapsed. The doctors told me that the symptoms of the 11 people - including the three civil defence volunteers - were consistent with a chemical attack, probably chlorine,” he said.

A nurse working at the medical post also confirmed that the casualties had suffered symptoms from a chemical attack.

Syrian government forces are suspected of carrying out dozens of attacks with chlorine and other chemical weapons on opposition-held areas since 2012, killing hundreds and inflicting terrible injuries on others.

September 2013, after hundreds of people died in alleged sarin gas attacks on Ghouta, outside Damascus, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and President Bashar al-Assad pledged to destroy the country’s stockpile of prohibited chemical agents.

However, a year later, in September 2014, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission found “compelling confirmation” that a toxic chemical was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in villages in northern Syria.

The OPCW also said it is confident that government forces used the nerve agent Sarin in an attack on the town of Kahn Sheikhoun in Idleb province in April 2017 in which more than 80 people were killed.

6 February 2018

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