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Syria Still Has Chemical Weapons

January 28, 2016

by: Roi Kais

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Soviet chemical weapons canister from an Albanian stockpile (illustrative)Friday, 29 January 2016 | New reports emerging from the ground in Syria suggest that despite Assad’s assertions in 2013 that he had disposed of his chemical weapons arsenal, his regime continues to fight in the civil war using non-conventional means.

The war, which will enter its sixth year in two months’ time, has no end in sight. The number of victims of the conflict—killed, injured, traumatized, etc—continues to rapidly increase and intensive efforts to bring the two sides to the negotiating table have yet to bear real fruit.

While rebel organizations such as the Free Syria Army and Jabhat al-Nusra are waging a war against President Bashar Assad’s regime as well as against rival rebel groups, Russia and other countries are also deeply invested in the bloody conflict.

Awhile back, US President Barack Obama declared Syria’s use of chemical weapons a “red line.” But the massacre by chemical weapons in a Damascus suburb in summer 2013 did not push Obama into military action against Syria – rather, he opted for the diplomatic process.

This option, at Russia’s initiative, centered around the proposal that Syria dismantle its chemical weapons arsenal. Some of these non-conventional weapons were destroyed and others taken outside the country’s borders.

But did Syria actually get rid of its chemical weapons? On paper it would appear so; in reality, things seem otherwise. The use of chemical weapons against civilians, rebels and regime forces has become routine.

Opposition figures in Syria occasionally provide reports on the regime’s use of chemical weapons. Although the number of casualties involved is not at summer 2013 levels, when more than 1,300 were killed according to estimates, the statistics should still be a cause of concern for the international community.

A member of the Syrian opposition familiar with the subject of chemical weapons use in the civil war told Ynet that there are indeed indications that the regime has used Sarin gas within the last year.

“Chlorine gas was used last year in Idlib and its suburbs in the north-west of the country,” the source, who worked in the Center for Documentation of Violations in Syria, said. “Islamic State also used mustard gas in Marea, a suburb of Halab, in the north.”

The center’s annual report estimates that between the first use of chemical weapons in Syria and August 2015, they have killed 3,118 people—the vast majority of whom were civilians and nearly two-thirds of whom were children. The center also estimates that the number of those injured by chemical weapons in Syria in the same period stands at 12,867.

The Syrian government denies that it is using chemical weapons and accuses the opposition of being the ones fighting with non-conventional materials. Damascus’ claims are fiercely rejected by moderate rebel groups that are backed by the West.

Western officials quoted by Reuters estimate that the rebel groups are not capable of using Sarin gas. Since the Syrian regime carried out the chemical massacre in 2013, it has been accused of using chlorine gas while shelling opposition targets across the country. Reports of the regime’s use of Sarin gas are now being added to those accusations.

The Syrian regime has its own version of events and in Syria, it is difficult to establish who is telling the truth and who is lying. Each side has its own interests and benefits from demonizing its rivals.

Although most fingers point at the regime, other actors in the civil war have also resorted to using chemical weapons. The Islamic State group has documented its own use of non-conventional materials in Halab.

Numerous recent testimonies report IS’s use of mustard gas in Marea, not far from the Turkish border. The terror organization has deployed the same weapon against Kurdish forces in Iraq.

But IS is not alone. Other rebel organizations, defined as “moderate,” also occasionally use chemical weapons against regime targets, albeit not lethal agents such as Sarin gas.

Posted on January 28, 2016

Source: (Excerpts of article originally published by Ynetnews on 26 January 2016. Time-related language has been modified to reflect our republication today. See original article at this link.)