US Denies Reports of Another Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria
Syrian refugees are claiming that the regime forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebel groups for a second time, according to the Daily Beast.
Refugee and activist groups went to the White House this week, according to the daily, urging the US to investigate reports that a chemical bomb devastated the town of Daraya on January 13, killing five and injuring at least 20.
The details of the attack are unknown, and the claim makes the most use out of survivor testimony.
“There were three bombs, the first one and then after some time, two more came down. Five died right away after breathing in the gasses that came out of the bombs,” Daraya Medical Council representative Oussama al-Chourbaji recounted. “We don’t know exactly what chemical was used, but I can tell you all of those who were affected or killed had the exact same symptoms as the August 21, 2013 attack (in East Ghouta) in which Sarin gas was used."
Chourbaji added that local doctors attempted to collect blood at the scene, but have not been able to smuggle the samples out of Syria for further testing. The US-based Syrian Support Group (SSG) has been working to verify the claims; a representative for the group added that victims of the attack were experiencing labored breathing, dizziness, and convulsions.
Pictures and YouTube videos - including the one below - have surfaced documenting the attack. The US remains skeptical, however.
“I don’t think it’s a credible claim,” one US intelligence official told The Daily Beast. “There were a bunch of rebel groups involved in that conflict at the time. And they can’t get their story straight.”
US State Department officials clarified that they had been aware of the reports of a January attack, but were unable to confirm what actually happened. They also raised the possibility that a poison gas - which technically does not qualify as a "chemical weapon" according to the UN - was used on the rebel groups.
Note: the video below contains graphic imagery. Viewer discretion is advised.
History repeating itself?
The UN recently confirmed that chemical weapons were used "at least five times" on rebel groups by Assad's forces.
In September, Russia dismissed the first UN report on Syria’s chemical weapons and said it has received evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels. Moscow at the time called the UN report "politicized and one-sided." In response, the UN said that “the terrible facts speak for themselves" and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he had the "fullest confidence" in the team.
The international operation to destroy Syria’s stockpile of deadly chemicals is a joint Russian-U.S. plan that was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September. The resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent an American strike on Syria in retaliation for the regime's alleged use of chemical weapons in an attack on a Damascus suburb in August that left hundreds dead.
War, bad weather, bureaucracy and technical issues delayed a December 31 deadline for the removal of the most deadly toxins from Syria.
A third shipment was moved out of the country last week, but the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said last week that Syria had only surrendered 11% of its chemical arsenal.