All Signs Point to No Lethal Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria

By Blanford, Nicholas | The Christian Science Monitor, March 20, 2013 | Go to article overview

All Signs Point to No Lethal Chemical Weapons Attack in Syria


Blanford, Nicholas, The Christian Science Monitor


An alleged chemical weapons attack near Aleppo yesterday, for which the Syrian regime and the opposition traded accusations of responsibility, almost certainly did not feature a lethal agent proscribed under international convention, say chemical weapons experts after considering the available evidence.

Video footage and eyewitness accounts suggest that if a chemical agent was used in a missile attack on Khan al-Aasal that reportedly killed 31 people and wounded more than 100, it was most likely a riot-control agent designed to cause irritation, which is not generally lethal.

In the end, all I can say with confidence is that whatever the conventional or non-conventional munition was, it was not a CW [Chemical Weapons] agent as defined by the CWC [Chemical Weapons Convention], says Charles Blair, senior fellow for state and non- state threats at the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists.

Eyewitnesses reported a powerful explosion yesterday morning in Khan al-Aasal, a village southeast of Aleppo where regime and rebel forces have battled for control.

The regime blamed Syrian opposition rebels for firing a chemically-tipped missile, while the Free Syrian Army accused Damascus of launching a Scud missile fitted with a chemical warhead. The Syrian military has fired several Scud ballistic missiles at rebel strongholds in northern Syria since December.

Securing Syrias chemical weapons arsenal has been a matter of international concern since the uprising evolved into an armed conflict in late 2011. There are at least four suspected sites where chemical weapons are manufactured and as many as 50 storage facilities. Diplomatic and rebel sources have claimed that some of the chemical weapons stockpile has been moved to new facilities, namely in the coastal region where support for the Assad regime still runs high.

The US has warned Syria that the use of chemical weapons would constitute a red line requiring unspecified action. The international community is also concerned that chemical weapons could fall into the hands of radical groups.

In another indication of second thoughts over the validity of the alleged chemical weapons claim, Russia appeared to backtrack today from its initial endorsement of the Syrian regimes position that rebels were responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Khan al- Aasal.

The story concerning the use of chemical weapons must be meticulously investigated, Gennady Gatilov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, said on Twitter. For now, there is no unequivocal evidence about this.

The United States has repeated its warning of consequences should chemical weapons be employed in a conflict that already has killed more than 70,000 people in the past two years. But US Ambassador to Syria Robert Ford, who was recalled to the US in 2011, told a House of Representatives hearing today that there was no evidence that chemical weapons had been used in Khan al-Aasal.

So far, we have no evidence which substantiates the reports that chemical weapons were used yesterday. …

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