Syria: Chemical Findings Demand Accountability

UN-Appointed Inquiry Blames Government for Khan Sheikhoun Attack

The ban on chemical weapons, with 192 member states, is the strongest weapons ban under international law. Human Rights Watch concluded in a report in May that the Syrian government’s widespread and systematic use of chemical weapons could amount to crimes against humanity.

More below the fold …

In its report, the Joint Investigative Mechanism said that it was deeply disturbed by the continuing use of chemical weapons: “If such use, in spite of the prohibition by the international community, is not stopped now, a lack of consequences will surely encourage others to follow – not only in the Syrian Arab Republic but also elsewhere. This is the time to bring these acts to an end.”

    As part of the evidence showing these attacks have become widespread and systematic, the 48-page report,   "Death by Chemicals: The Syrian Government's Widespread and Systematic Use of Chemical Weapons," identifies three different systems being used to deliver chemical weapons:

    Government warplanes appear to have dropped bombs with nerve agents on at least four occasions since December 12; Government helicopter-dropped chlorine-filled munitions have become more systematic; Government or pro-government ground forces have started using improvised ground-launched munitions filled with chlorine.

    In at least some of the attacks, the intention appears to have been to inflict severe suffering on the civilian population.

    "The government's recent use of nerve agents is a deadly escalation - and part of a clear pattern," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "In the last six months, the government has used warplanes, helicopters, and ground forces to deliver chlorine and sarin in Damascus, Hama, Idlib, and Aleppo. That's widespread and systematic use of chemical weapons." What appears to be repeated use of nerve agents undermines Syrian and Russian officials' claims that the chemical exposure in Khan Sheikhoun was due to a conventional bomb striking toxic chemicals on the ground. It would not be plausible that conventional bombs struck chemical caches repeatedly across the country. Photos and videos of weapon remnants that struck Khan Sheikhoun on April 4 appear to be consistent with the characteristics of a Soviet-made air-dropped chemical bomb specifically designed to deliver sarin.

    The United Nations Security Council should immediately adopt a resolution calling on all parties to fully cooperate with investigators from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and adopt sanctions against anyone UN investigators find to be responsible for these or past chemical attacks in Syria.

The report also said ISIS was to blame for the use of sulfur mustard in the Syrian town of Umm Hawsh on Sept. 15 and 16, 2016.

Failed YPG assault at Herbel & Maarat Umm Hawsh – 2 years ago

Khan Sheikhoun

HTS withdraws from key city in southern Idlib
By Leith Aboufadel – 27/02/2018

The jihadist rebels of Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham have withdrawn from another city in the Idlib Governorate this week after an agreement was put in place to avoid infighting with other factions. According to pro-opposition activists in Idlib, the agreement called for Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham to withdraw from Khan Sheikhoun and hand the city back to the locals.

Who Is Assassinating Hay’at Tahrir Al-Sham’s Leaders?

More than 35 members of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) – a coalition of rebel groups led by the rebranded al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham – have been assassinated in Idlib since September.

… a quick scan of public local media reports from the past three months shows that most of the attacks targeted high profile members. Eliminating HTS’s foreign Sharia scholars and leaders – mostly Saudis, Jordanians and Tunisians – comes at the top of the priority list, indicating that the assassinations are meant to weaken its leadership.

… targeting HTS’s foreign scholars, who are mostly veteran fighters with long experience as jihadists, will weaken the group’s credibility and limit its ability to recruit.

The assassination operations against HTS have significantly increased since last September, which coincided with preparations for the Turkish-led intervention in Idlib. Much of the speculation about a potential Turkish intervention in Idlib had portrayed it as an anti-HTS operation, leading to the assumption that Turkey is behind the attacks.

There are unconfirmed reports about the involvement of foreign actors and governments in the assassinations through local proxies. With ISIS rapidly declining, international attention has turned more heavily toward the threat posed by HTS in Idlib. But instead of conventional military operations similar to the anti-ISIS campaign, a different approach is perhaps being used to eliminate HTS’s persons of interest without disturbing the conflict’s delicate dynamics.

The types of assassination attacks indicate that a small number of people are involved in executing them. The majority of assassinations are either done through planting explosive devices under the cars of the targets or by ambushing and shooting them. As such it is easy for certain governments to hire local mercenaries to kill high-value targets such their fellow citizens who joined HTS or other individuals who are perceived as a threat. Local sources have confirmed that many locals, whether proxies or bounty hunters, are already involved in such activities. But they also highlighted that the regime and ISIS may also be behind some of the assassinations.  

The vast number of people with both an interest in assassinating HTS leaders and the means to do so adds to the difficulty of verifying who is responsible for what. But it is safe to say that such targeted attacks will continue as long as the group is perceived internationally as one of the biggest threats in Syria.

Middle East Turkish military enters Syria’s Idlib governate
UN Security Council meeting: Opening statements use chemical weapons Middle East
Russia’s Responsibility for the Ongoing Use of Chemical Weapons in Syria | Paris – U.S. Embassy |
US makes new push for UN Syria chemical weapons probe