UK and U.S. Investigating New Allegations of Syrian Chemical Attacks

UK and U.S. Investigating New Allegations of Syrian Chemical Attacks

Britain and America are investigating claims that the Syrian government has carried out a series of new chemical attacks in the suburbs of Damascus, according to The Times of London.

British officials said yesterday that they were “aware of multiple allegations” of chemical attacks designed to terrorise opposition-controlled areas around the Syrian capital.

The British statement came just days after Israeli officials said that the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad had used non-lethal chemicals in an attack against a rebel-held neighborhood.

The regime is believed to be using toxic industrial substances, rather than weaponised chemicals, as a ploy to spread fear, but on a scale not quite large enough to trigger an international military reaction.  Last summer, the Assad regime agreed to give up its chemical weapons after a chemical attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta killed over 1,000 people. The attack drew widespread condemnation and threats of military action by the US, Britain and France.

British officials said they were seeking more information about four alleged attacks around Damascus between January and April.  US and Turkish officials were reportedly looking into claims that chlorine and pesticides were used against the opposition.

Israeli officials this week claimed that two chemical attacks were carried out on march 27 by the Assad regime against rebels in the Harasta neighbourhood of Damascus, and that the effects of the chemicals lasted for several hours.  The Israelis said that nonlethal agents were used to incapacitate opposition fighters. Still, Syrian opposition sources claimed three people were killed in the Harasta attack.

The Times also reported alleged attacks being investigated in Daraya, Adra and Jobar. After the alleged Jobar attack, opposition groups posted a video to social media showing a man suffering symptoms consistent with a chemical attack.

According to Israel, the non-lethal compound used in the Harasta attacks was not listed among the chemicals that Syria committed to dispose of when it signed an agreement in September 2013 to give up its chemical weapons.  Israel pays particularly close attention to Syrian use and transfer of chemical weapons to prevent any such weapons from landing in the hands of Hezbollah.

Syria has taken months to transfer about half of its estimated 1,300-metric ton known stockpile of chemicals.  Under the timeline agreed to last year, the most toxic chemicals were to have been removed from the country by December 31, but that deadline was missed.  The rest of the chemicals are supposed to be removed by June 30, a deadline looking increasingly unrealistic.