A new scientific analysis conducted for the British Telegraph newspaper has found that Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is still using chemical weapons against civilians.
In the first independent testing of its kind, soil samples from the scene of three recent gas attacks in Syria were collected by trained individuals and analyzed by a chemical warfare expert.
The results, reported by the Telegraph on Tuesday, show sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia present at the site of all three attacks.
The use in war of “asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases” - both of which can be produced by chlorine and ammonia - is banned by the Geneva Protocol, of which Syria is a signatory, noted the newspaper.
The attacks, which in some cases used canisters marked with their chemical contents, were conducted by helicopter. In the Syrian civil war, only the regime has access to aerial power, making it now certain that the recent chemical attacks could only have been carried out by the regime, not the opposition.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert involved in the testing, told the Telegraph, “We have unequivocally proved that the regime has used chlorine and ammonia against its own civilians in the last two to three weeks.”
The analysis comes a week after activists said that over 100 people were killed in a chlorine gas attack in the town of Talmenes in Idlib Province.
The Islamic Front, an opposition forces coalition, claimed that victims of the attack were suffering from the effects of inhaling chlorine gas, listed the names of 17 victims, and even released video footage of the aftermath of the attack.
The United Nations Security Council has since called for an investigation into the alleged chlorine attack.
Even as results of the Telegraph tests were being made public on Tuesday, the global chemical weapons watchdog Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced it would be sending a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate allegations of the gas attacks.
The Syrian government said it would accept the mission and is promising to provide security.
The regime had previously agreed to hand over its chemical weapons to international control following an attack in the suburbs of Damascus last August. That attack is said to have killed up to 1,400 people and sparked international outrage.
The Telegraph noted, however, that even as the OPCW now works to remove the last elements of Syria’s declared stockpile, a crude but deadly new type of chemical attack is being launched.
In the last two weeks alone there have been eight separate chemical attacks on rebel held towns and villages in Idlib province, the newspaper reported.
The Syrian government has denied the claim that it is using chemical weapons again as a “baseless allegation” with some critics, including Russia, claiming the attacks could have been mounted by the rebels themselves to trigger international intervention.
The chemical tests conducted with the Telegraph now confirm, however, that chlorine gas and ammonia have been used in Idlib, and that the toxins came from barrels that were dropped from helicopters.
This newspaper obtained soil samples collected from sites of chemical attacks inside Syria by a medic whose real identity cannot be revealed for his own protection and who was only identified as Dr. Ahmad. He had previously received training in sample collection by western chemical weapons experts.
De Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert and director of Secure Bio, a private company, was one of the trainers.
This week Ahmad passed on soil samples taken from the attacks that happened on April 11 and 18 in Kafr Zita. There was also a sample from an attack last week in the village of Talmenes which killed at least three people.
“I had to verify that the samples had the complete chain of evidence, so that the video footage, stills photography, and GPS locations taken by Ahmad in collecting the samples marries up - and it does,” said de Bretton-Gordon.
“The samples were kept along the rules that the OPCW require. They were presented in perfect condition required so that we can test them,” he noted.
Watched by the Telegraph, de Bretton-Gordon tested the samples for chlorine and ammonia, and the results of the analysis were soon clear.
“In each of the samples we have found evidence of chlorine,” he said, adding,. “Also, the samples indicate that ammonia has also been used in Kafr Zita.”
Israeli officials said earlier this month they believe that a chemical attack in another area of Syria, Harasta, had indeed occurred, saying there was “strong evidence” it had taken place.