Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday acknowledged that what he described as “raw data” – viewed by him as well as by other U.S. officials – indicated that “there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war.” The French had earlier alleged that they had evidence of at least 14 instances in which the Bashar al-Assad regime had deployed chlorine-filled chemical weapons against rebel-heavy areas. Human Rights Watch had been equally unequivocal in its assessment of the situation.
Evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government helicopters dropped barrel bombs embedded with cylinders of chlorine gas on three towns in Northern Syria in mid-April 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. These attacks used an industrial chemical as a weapon, an act banned by the international treaty prohibiting chemical weapons that Syria joined in October 2013. The Syrian government is the only party to the conflict with helicopters and other aircraft…“Syria’s apparent use of chlorine gas as a weapon – not to mention targeting of civilians – is a plain violation of international law,” said Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The statements from Paris have come as part of a broader diplomatic and media push in which French officials vocally criticized the Obama administration for suspending impending strikes against Damascus last September, which had been set in motion after evidence emerged that the Assad regime had crossed President Barack Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons. Syria and its Russian backers had bragged that the United Nations Security Council resolution forestalling the strikes – under which Syria agreed to join the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and give up portions of its nonconventional arsenal in exchange for the West standing down – represented an outright diplomatic victory. Kerry’s acknowledged on Thursday that the use of chlorine weapons “would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to,” a reference to the CWC’s prohibition on the use of chlorine-based chemical weapons. A day earlier, the Wall Street Journal had come to a similar conclusion.
A high-stakes U.S.-Russian plan for destroying Syria’s chemicals weapons is in jeopardy on several fronts, with the regime facing growing allegations it violated the agreement by attacking rebels and civilians with chlorine gas. Despite the allegations of new chemical weapons attacks, there is no indication the U.S. is considering reviving its threat of military strikes on the Syrian regime in the near future. A State Department spokeswoman on Tuesday emphasized the plan’s achievements, noting Syria has destroyed all its production equipment and shipped the vast majority of its chemical stockpile out of the country. Still weapons inspectors and Western officials say the regime is in danger of missing the June 30 deadline for the eradication of all its chemical weapons and the facilities used to produce them. In another complication, there are suspicions Syria may not have fully disclosed what it has and could be hiding some chemicals.
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