NEW YORK: There are “reasonable grounds” to believe the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for a chemical weapons attack on Douma almost five years ago, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said on Friday.
Its Investigation and Identification Team, which is responsible for identifying the perpetrators of such attacks in Syria, concluded that on the evening of April 7, 2018, at least one helicopter belonging to the elite Syrian “Tiger Forces” unit dropped two yellow cylinders filled with toxic chlorine gas onto two residential buildings in the city.
Fernando Arias, the OPCW’s director-general, said: “The world now knows the facts — it is up to the international community to take action, at the OPCW and beyond.”
The Douma attack resulted in the confirmed deaths of 43 identified civilians. Some estimates put the true death toll at 50. At least 100 people were injured.
The IIT said that it reached its conclusion on the basis of “reasonable grounds,” which is the standard of proof consistently adopted by international fact-finding bodies and commissions of inquiry.
The IIT report, the team’s third, said that investigators, analysts and several external independent experts scrutinized the physical evidence of the attack, which included environmental and biomedical samples, witness statements and other verified data, such as forensic analyzes and satellite images.
The OPCW said: “The IIT considered a range of possible scenarios and tested their validity against the evidence they gathered and analyzed to reach their conclusion: That the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack.”
UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric told Arab News: “It’s sad that in the 21st century we need to repeat this, but the use of chemical weapons anywhere, by anyone, under any circumstances is intolerable.
“Impunity for the use of chemical weapons is also unacceptable and it’s imperative that those who have used chemical weapons are identified and held accountable.”
He reiterated calls for the full implementation of Security Council Resolution 2118, which was unanimously adopted in September 2013 after a UN investigation confirmed the use of chemical weapons against civilians in a Damascus suburb the previous month. Images of the victims, including children, suffocating after breathing in a nerve agent caused outrage worldwide.
The resolution called on the Syrian regime to destroy its stockpiles of chemical weapons by mid-2014 and set out punitive measures in the event of non-compliance. It also banned Syrian authorities from using, developing, producing, acquiring, stockpiling or retaining any chemical weapons, or transferring them to other states or non-state actors.
In October 2013, the Syria regime submitted to the OPCW a formal initial declaration of its chemical weapons program, including a plan for the destruction of stockpiles.
Almost 10 years later, the UN’s disarmament chief, Izumi Nakamitsu, continues to assert that the regime’s declaration cannot be considered accurate or complete. She said “gaps, inconsistencies
and discrepancies” were identified that continue to cast doubt on the true extent of the destruction of chemical weapons by the regime.
Dujarric called on the Syrian government to cooperate fully with the OPCW. The organization has for months complained that its attempts to schedule talks in Damascus about the issue have been blocked by the “continued refusal” of Syrian authorities to issue an entry visa for one member of its Declaration Assessment Team. The Syrian government accuses the team of being biased and unprofessional.
Dujarric reiterated the full support of the UN for “the integrity, the professionalism, the impartiality, the objectivity and the independence of the work of the OPCW.”
The IIT is a fact-finding entity, not a prosecutorial or judicial body, and does not make recommendations for future action, which is an issue for the policy-making bodies of the OPCW.