Syria attacks probed by chemical watchdog

President Bashar al-Assad's government agrees to accept mission from OPCW after claims of the use of chlorine gas.

    The global chemical weapons watchdog is to send a team to Syria to investigate allegations by rebels and activists of chlorine gas attacks, the organisation has said.

    The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Tuesday that President Bashar al-Assad's government had agreed to accept the mission and had promised to provide security in areas under its control.

    "The mission will carry out its work in the most challenging circumstances," the OPCW said, referring to the three-year-old conflict between Assad's forces and rebels. It gave no exact date for the mission but said it would take place soon.

    There have been claims by rebels and Syrian activists of at least three separate chlorine gas attacks by Assad's forces in the last month.

    The Syrian government agreed to give up its stocks of chemical weapons after a sarin gas attack on rebel-held outskirts of Damascus last August, in which hundreds of people were killed.

    However, chlorine is a "dual-use" chemical with industrial uses, and Syria's stocks did not fall the elimination agreement.

    Regardless, the use of chemical weapons are prohibited under the Convention on Chemical Weapons, to which Syria is a signatory.

    Removal of chemicals

    Damascus has now shipped out or destroyed 92 percent of the chemicals it pledged to eliminate. However chlorine, which also has many industrial uses, was never included in the list submitted to the OPCW.

    Videos released by activists of chlorine gas cannisters they said were dropped in barrel bombs from Syrian military helicopters could not be verified but analysts say the pattern of attacks suggest a coordinated campaign with growing evidence of government responsibility, according to Reuters news agency.

    The US State Department said last week that if Syrian authorities used chlorine gas with the intent to kill or harm
    this would violate the Chemical Weapons Convention, which it joined as part of last year's agreement.

    In addition to the possible chlorine use, diplomats say Western powers believe Syria may have not have declared all of its chemical stockpiles - an accusation which Syria has denied.

    One Western diplomat said a separate OPCW mission arrived in Syria last week to discuss discrepancies between Syria's original declaration and the quantities which have been shipped out so far.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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