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Syrian conflict

Chlorine was used to attack Syria’s Douma, preliminary report finds – but no sign of nerve gas

‘Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples’ from two locations, says the report

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 4:25am
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 July, 2018, 7:26am

The world’s chemical arms watchdog said on Friday that it had found no evidence nerve gas was used in an alleged attack on the Syrian town of Douma, but that chlorine may have been deployed.

Rescuers and medics have said about 40 people were killed in an April 7 attack on the then rebel-held town, which stirred international outrage and led to unprecedented Western air strikes on Syrian military installations. The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) sent a fact-finding mission to Douma in mid-April.

“Various chlorinated organic chemicals were found in samples” from two locations, the report said. It said it had found no evidence of nerve agents.

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The OPCW has documented systematic use of banned munitions in Syria’s civil war, including nerve agent sarin and sulphur mustard gas. It has not assigned blame for the attacks.

In Douma, OPCW inspectors visited two sites where they interviewed witnesses and took samples, which were split at their laboratory in the Netherlands and forwarded to affiliated national labs for testing.

Two samples recovered from gas cylinders at the scene tested positive for chlorine, the report said.

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Washington and other Western governments blamed Syrian government forces for the attack in Douma.

The Syrian government denies using chemical weapons during the country’s long civil war but a previous joint inquiry of the United Nations and the OPCW found the Syrian government used the nerve agent sarin in an April 2017 attack and has also several times used chlorine as a weapon.

It blamed Islamic State militants for mustard gas use.

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Friday’s report came a week after the OPCW’s top policy-making body agreed that the organisation should have new powers to say who was responsible for any toxic arms attacks in Syria.

Late last year, Russia wielded its veto power at the UN Security Council to effectively kill off a joint UN-OPCW panel aimed at identifying those behind suspected chemical attacks in the war-torn country.