The regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria has used chemical weapons on more than two dozen occasions since the outbreak of the civil war six years ago, including in April’s deadly attack on Khan Sheikhoun, a UN war crimes investigation revealed on Wednesday.
Reuters reported that the UN investigators interviewed 43 witnesses, victims, and first responders affected by the chemical weapons attacks. They also analyzed satellite imagery, photos of bomb remnants, and early warning reports to draw conclusions as to what happened.
In their 14th report since 2011, which includes the most conclusive findings to date from investigations into chemical weapons attacks in the Syrian civil war, the UN investigators said they had documented a total of 33 attacks.
On 27 occasions, the UN was able to verify that the regime of Bashar al-Assad was behind the use of chemical weapons, including seven attacks that took place between March 1 and July 7. They were unable to determine the perpetrators behind six early attacks.
“Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas,” the UN investigators said, declaring the use of nerve agents a war crime. They added, “in the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children.”
The UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said a regime warplane dropped sarin on Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in April, killing more than 80 civilians. The incident led United States President Donald Trump to launch the first U.S. air strikes on a Syrian air base.
Syrian authorities have repeatedly denied using any chemical weapons and claimed the strikes in Khan Sheikhoun hit a weapons depot belonging to opposition forces. The UN has dismissed this narrative of events.
Throughout the conflict, the Assad regime has enjoyed the support of other dictatorial regimes, such as North Korea and Iran, which are complicit in Syrian war crimes. North Korea has been caught delivering shipments to an official Syrian agency in charge of the country’s chemical weapons program, the UN revealed last month.
Iran was crucial in helping Syria develop its chemical weapons program, with Tehran and Damascus jump-starting a program to develop a sophisticated Syrian chemicals arsenal as early as 2004. In June 2017, a Syrian opposition website claimed that Assad recently visited an Iranian-run chemical weapons and missile production facility, located near the border with Lebanon.
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