Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said that the Iran-backed regime of President Bashar al-Assad has used banned chemical weapons against civilians since the current ceasefire began, Reuters reported on Tuesday.
“The Syrians used military grade chemical weapons and lately have been using materials, chlorine, against civilians, including in these very days, after the supposed ceasefire, dropping barrels of chlorine on civilians,” said Ya’alon in a speech at a conference hosted by the New Tech military and aviation group.
While he offered no further details, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) reported in 2014 that the use of chlorine bombs in Syria was widespread, despite a 2013 agreement to remove Assad’s chemical weapon stockpiles. The chlorine bombs, which contain a chemical that has legitimate industrial uses but is barred from being deployed as a weapon, have been dropped from helicopters. The Syrian army is the only party in the conflict known to be operating helicopters.
Assad agreed to the Russian-sponsored deal to surrender his chemical weapon stockpiles following an August 2013 chemical attack on a Damascus suburb that killed over 1,400 people, according to a preliminary assessment by the White House. Critics have expressed doubts that the deal could effectively remove all of Syria’s stockpiles, and their concerns seemed to be validated last year when inspectors found deadly nerve agents at a previously undeclared site in Syria.
American intelligence officials confirmed in July that Assad remained in possession of chemical weapons despite the agreement, according to The Wall Street Journal. One of the factors given for the deal’s ineffectiveness was Syria’s ability to control the sites that inspectors could visit.
OPCW confirmed the use of mustard gas in Syria in November, suggesting that either ISIS or another rebel group had captured some of Assad’s chemical weapons stockpiles, which were supposed to have been completely destroyed. OPCW officials from both the United States and Europe accused Assad in December of “routine” chemical weapons use.