First Published: 2017-10-04

Chemical weapon used in Syria 5 days before Khan Sheikhun
Samples collected by OPCW prove sarin nerve agent was used in town 25 km south of Khan Sheikhun days before deadly attack that killed at least 83.
Middle East Online

UN last month said they had evidence that Syrian forces were behind the attacks

THE HANGUE - Sarin nerve agent was used in an 'incident' at a northern Syrian village in late March, five days before the deadly attack on Khan Sheikhun, the world's chemical watchdog said Wednesday.

"Analysis of samples collected (by the OPCW)... relates to an incident that took place again in the northern part of Syria on the 30th of March this year," the head of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said in an interview.

"The results prove the existence of sarin," Ahmet Uzumcu said.

The Khan Sheikhun attack on April 4 was previously believed to have been the first use of sarin since the deadly August 2013 attack in and around Damascus which killed hundreds of people.

Two days after Khan Sheikhun incident, the United States fired 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian airbase from which it said the attack was launched.

At least 87 people including 30 children died in the attack on Khan Sheikhun, a town in the opposition-held province of Idlib.

But Uzumcu said Wednesday sarin had also been used the opposition-held village called Latamneh, some 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Khan Sheikhun on March 30.

"What we know at the moment is not much. Fifty people were reportedly injured. There were no deaths reported," he said.

He said the OPCW's fact-finding mission had retrieved soil samples, clothing and metal parts "which were sent to our laboratories and we received the results a few days ago."

It is "worrying that there is some sarin use or exposure even before the April 4 incident," he said.

Uzumcu pointed out that the OPCW's fact-finding mission team was unlikely to visit the area, where fighting is still ongoing between Syrian government forces and armed opposition groups.

"The (fact-finding team) is making every effort to contact the victims," Uzumcu said.

- Damascus denies -

Syria's government has denied involvement and claims it no longer possesses chemical weapons after a 2013 agreement under which it pledged to surrender its chemical arsenal.

The OPCW earlier this year presented a report confirming sarin gas was used in the attack at Khan Sheikhun, but did not assign blame.

But UN war crimes investigators last month said they had evidence that Syrian forces were behind the attacks, the first UN report to officially blame the Assad regime.

Damascus has vehemently refuted the claims saying "Syria has not and will not use toxic gases against its people because it does not have them."

In total, the OPCW is studying as many as 45 suspected chemical attacks in Syria since mid-2016, the watchdog said in April.

The JIM, a joint OPCW-United Nations panel which reports to the UN Security Council, is now probing the question of responsibility and its report on the attack is due within the next few weeks.

The JIM has already determined that Syrian government forces were responsible for chlorine attacks on three villages in 2014 and 2015, and that Islamic State jihadists used mustard gas in 2015.

Uzumcu said he did not believe there would be any difference between the JIM's findings on Khan Sheikhun and those of the OPCW's fact-finding mission about the use of sarin.

"The challenge is of course to identify the actors of these attacks. They should certainly be held accountable, prosecuted and punished," Uzumcu said.

"That's the only way to keep strong the international norm against the use of chemical weapons," he said.

 

Iran airs "confessions" of researcher facing death for spying

Mayor of Libya's Misrata assassinated

Macron sees war on IS in Syria will be won in February

Assad blasts US-backed Kurdish fighters

Christmas in Jordan dimmed by Jerusalem crisis

Protesters torch political party offices in Iraqi Kurdistan

Turkey prosecutor seeks release of German reporter

Kuwait likely to face political uncertainty

Lebanon arrests suspected killer of British embassy worker

Israel targets Hamas site in Gaza

Turkey slams Austria ‘discrimination’

Iran's schools suffocate in smog

Tunisia elections delayed

Istanbul summit strong on the rhetoric, weak on concrete steps

Israeli air traffic halted due to strikes

Two Danes stabbed by man shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ in Gabon

Morocco’s Islamists elect new leader, walking away from predecessor’s populism

UN considers rejecting Trump Jerusalem decision

Palestinians call for protests against Pence Jerusalem visit

Palestinian billionaire detained in Saudi Arabia

Egypt opens Rafah crossing for four days

Turkey court releases 7 suspects in New Year attack trial

Palestinian activist killed in Gaza protests

Foreign fighters a worry as IS struggles to survive

Over half Syrian refugees in Lebanon live in 'extreme poverty'

Palestinians killed in continuing protests over Jerusalem occupation

Bourita: Extraordinary meeting between ECOWAS, Morocco to be held beginning of 2018

Saudi-led air strikes, clashes as Yemen forces battle rebels

Sahel force funding shows terrorism fight is Saudi 'priority'

UN 'appalled' at mass execution of jihadists in Iraq

Iraq's Sistani says Hashed should be under government control

Middle-class Egypt adapts as costs soar

Somalia's budget meets IMF terms

Israel PM questioned in graft probe

US says Iran supplied ballistic missile to Yemen rebels

Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration

US to present 'irrefutable evidence' of Iran violations

Istanbul 'to remove Gulen links' from street names

Iraq hangs 38 jihadists

Pence to visit Middle East despite controversy

Hamas chief calls for continued Jerusalem protests

EU to repatriate 15,000 migrants from Libya in two months

Syria Kurds fear US ally will desert them after IS defeat

Israeli drugmaker Teva to cut 14,000 jobs over two years

Turkey rescues 51 migrants stranded on rocks