United States Investigation of Chlorine Attacks

United States asks Security Council to set up an investigative panel to identify those behind deadly chlorine gas attacks in Syria.

Elad Benari ,

Villagers in Idlib during chlorine offensive/
Villagers in Idlib during chlorine offensive/

The United States on Thursday asked the UN Security Council to set up an investigative panel to identify those behind deadly chlorine gas attacks in Syria, AFP reported.

The panel, comprised of experts from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), could be able to establish whether President Bashar Al-Assad's forces are carrying out the attacks, as western countries claim.

A draft resolution presented to the 15-member council calls on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to present recommendations within 15 days on the "Joint Investigative Mechanism" that would undertake the probe.

Investigators would be asked to "identify to the greatest extent feasible, individuals, entities, groups, or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemical weapons" in Syria, according to the draft obtained by AFP.

The team of experts would be allowed to travel to Syria, speak to potential witnesses and review all of the documents compiled by a fact-finding mission of the OPCW.

Discussions on the text were to begin next week and it remained unclear when the draft resolution would be put to a vote in the council, according to the news agency.

Pressure has been mounting on the Security Council to take action in Syria, where the war is now in its fifth year and has claimed more than 230,000 lives.

The United States told the council in May that it would seek to establish the impartial UN-authorized panel to attribute responsibility for the attacks.

That announcement followed a report by the OPCW in January in which it concluded "with a  high degree of confidence" that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on three villages in Syria last year.

But the OPCW did not attribute blame for the attacks, as its mandate does not allow for such determinations.

Britain, France and the United States have repeatedly accused the Assad regime of carrying out the chlorine attacks by using barrel bombs thrown from helicopters, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned the Bashar Al-Assad regime it would be held to account for using chlorine gas against civilians.

The three countries argue that only the Syrian regime has helicopters, but Russia maintains there is no solid proof that Damascus is behind the attacks.

Russia has said that it backs a move to determine who is responsible for the chlorine attacks and has been in talks with the U.S. on the proposed resolution.

Security Council diplomats in April met with Syrian doctors who gave graphic first-hand accounts of chlorine attacks. A video of the doctors treating children after a chlorine bomb attack on the village of Sarmin in Idlib province left many council members in tears.

The Syrian government, however, has continuously denied using chlorine or any other chemical weapon for that matter. Syria’s Deputy Foreign Minister claimed several months ago that that “terror groups” - the Syrian government’s term to describe rebels - were using such weapons.