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The global chemical-weapons watchdog found evidence that chlorine gas was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in northern Syria, where witnesses described poison barrel bombs crashing into their villages from the sky, the agency said on Wednesday in a report.
Reacting to the report, Britain and the United States blamed the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which they said was the only party in the civil war with helicopters.
“The moderate opposition do not possess air capability power that could do this,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said. “This points to the conclusion that the Assad regime is responsible for the attacks. They are the ones with this helicopter capability,” she added.
The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said its fact-finding team had concluded “with a high degree of confidence that chlorine, either pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question” in dozens of attacks.
The report, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, described from extensive testimony from witnesses how hundreds of people were hurt and many were killed by the chlorine gas, often at night.
It gave credibility to hundreds of videos from Syria showing the devices falling from helicopters, which only government forces are known to possess. The anti-Assad rebels use rockets and missiles, but no case has ever been reported of them dropping munitions from the air, or of them having commandeered a helicopter.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said in a statement that the report supports claims that the Assad regime “is continuing to use chemical weapons in Syria” after agreeing to give up a chemical-weapons program.
“The systematic and repeated use of chlorine in northern Syria and the consistent reports from witnesses of the presence of helicopters at the times of the attacks leave little doubt as to the Assad regime’s culpability,” he said
Although chlorine is not a prohibited substance, its use as a chemical weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined a year ago this week.
Chlorine was used in attacks on the villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zeta, all located in northern Syria, the OPCW’s report said.