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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Chemical weapons used more than 100 times in Syria: BBC

Estimate higher than previous official tolls of attacks using the banned weapons

A flag of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad flies over Douma, the town won back during a regime offensive backed by chemical weapons. AP  
A flag of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad flies over Douma, the town won back during a regime offensive backed by chemical weapons. AP  

Chemical weapons have been used in Syria more than 100 times since 2013, a significantly higher figure than previous official estimates, according to research by the BBC.

Analysis of reported attacks suggested that the banned weapons were used 106 times since Syria agreed to scrap its stockpile of the deadly weapons.

Casualties were reported in more than half of the cases identified with the most deadly single incident the attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib in April 2017 which health officials said killed 80 people.

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A UN panel blamed the Syrian government for the attack on the town that led to the first US military strike against regime after Barack Obama drew back from direct action in favour of striking a diplomatic deal.

The findings come six months after the US accused Syria of using chemical weapons at least 50 times during the seven-year civil war, which was also a significantly higher number than previously claimed.

Nikki Haley, the outgoing US ambassador to the United Nations, said that some estimates had put the figure at nearer 200. The BBC figure was similar to findings by Human Rights Watch which identified 85 cases in a study which concluded in February this year.

The BBC analysis was based on 164 reported attacks and whittled the number down to 106 based on photos, video, witness statements and expert analysis.

The attacks appear to have been launched in clusters to back up government offences including in Hama and Idlib in 2014 and Eastern Ghouta in early 2018, according to the analysis.

While sarin was used for the most deadly attacks, chlorine was the most commonly used, according to the analysis, which disperses quickly and leaves little trace.

“If you go to a site where a chlorine attack has happened, it’s almost impossible to get physical evidence from the environment,” Julian Tangaere, the former head of a chemical weapons investigation team told the BBC. “In that sense, being able to use it leaving virtually no evidence behind, you can see why it has happened many, many times over.”

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad has consistently denied the use of such weapons by his forces and has blamed opposition forces.

The body responsible for monitoring the use of chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, was the target of an attempted hacking effort by Russian agents in April this year.

The military intelligence team was arrested in the Netherlands after a failed attempt to hack the organisation’s headquarters a week after more than 70 people were killed in the attack by the Russian-backed Assad regime.