International probe zeroes in on Syrian chemical attacks

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United Nations, Feb 13 (IANS) An international inquiry to determine responsibility for the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict has narrowed down its initial targets from 116 to five, said a report.

The five potential cases for investigation have emerged as Kafr Zita in Hama on April 11 and 18, 2014, Talmenes in Idlib on April 21, 2014, Qmenas and Sarmin both in Idlib and on March 16, 2015, and Marea in Aleppo on August 21, 2015, Xinhua cited the report as saying on Friday.

“This is an ongoing process and as more information is received and analysed, the list of potential cases may change,” said the Joint Investigation Mechanism of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in the report.

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The report was sent to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who relayed it on Friday to members of the UN Security Council, which mandated the investigation in August 2015.

The report said out of an initial 116 allegations of use of chemical weapons, the OPCW investigated 29. Its fact-finding mission concluded that the incidents lent credence to the view that toxic chemicals were used.

The report said investigators narrowed down targets by looking into the severity, delivery method and ammunition and quantity of data, among others.

The UN-OPCW team is the first mission to determine who was responsible for various attacks. There have been allegations that both the government and opposition groups used chemical weapons in Syria.

The investigation team was asked to identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups or governments that were perpetrators, organisers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

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The worst previous chemical-weapons attack in Syria confirmed by a UN mission occurred in the early hours of August 21, 2013 in the Ghouta area of the outskirts of Damascus where hundreds of people were believed killed and thousands injured by rockets carrying sarin gas.

The area affected was so large and the confusion caused by the early-hour rocket strikes so great that it made it difficult to determine exact casualties.

Doctors without Boarders said more than 3,000 people were injured. Various sources reported deaths ranging from more than 200 to several hundred.

Less than one month after the Ghouta attacks, Syria said it wanted to dispose of its chemical-weapons stash and called for help from the United Nations and the OPCW.

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In June 2014 the UN and the OPCW announced the removal of Syria’s declared chemical weapons.

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