THE HAGUE, Nov 6( Reuters) – Chemical weapons experts have determined that mustard gas was used in a Syrian township where Islamic State rebels were combating another group, according to a report by an international watchdog assured by Reuters.
A confidential Oct. 29 report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons( OPCW ), a summing-up of which was shown to Reuters, concluded “with the utmost confidence that at least two people were exposed to sulfur mustard” in the town of Marea , north of Aleppo, on Aug. 21.
“It is very likely that the effects of sulfur mustard resulted in the death of a baby, ” it said.
The findings offer the first official verification of use of sulfur mustard, commonly known as mustard gas, in Syria since it agreed to destroy its chemical weapons stockpile, which included sulfur mustard.
The report did not mention Islamic State, as the fact-finding mission was not mandated to designate blamed, but diplomatic sources said the chemical had been used in the clashes between Islamic State and the other rebel group taking place in the town at the time.
“It raises the major is the issue of where the sulfur mustard came from, ” one source told. “Either they( IS) gained the ability to make it themselves, or it may have come from an undeclared stockpile overtaken by IS. Both are worrying options.”
Syria is supposed to have wholly surrendered the toxic chemicals 18 months ago. Their utilize breaks U.N. Security Council resolutions and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention.
The findings were part of three reports released to members of the OPCW last week. They add to a growing body of evidence that the Islamic State group has obtained, and is use, chemical weapons in both Iraq and Syria.
Kurdish authorities said earlier this month that Islamic State fighters fired mortar rounds containing mustard agent at Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq during clashes in August. They told blood samples taken from around 35 fighters who were exposed in the attack southwest of the regional capital of Erbil demonstrated “signatures” of mustard gas.
A team of OPCW experts has been sent to Iraq to confirm the findings and is expected to obtain its own samples later this month, one envoy said.
ASSAD'S FORCES ALSO UNDER SUSPICION
In the Idlib Province south of Aleppo, another report told, there were several incidents between March and May of 2015 which “likely involved the use of one or more toxic chemicals, ” including chlorine.
Those assaults, which resulted in the deaths of six people in the opposition-controlled region, have been blamed on government forces.
“Witnesses reported hearing helicopters overhead at the time the chemical munitions detonation. Only the Assad regime has helicopters, ” State Department spokesman John Kirby said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad's government.
A special session has been called by the OPCW's 41 -member Executive Council to discuss the Syrian findings and it will be held in The Hague on Nov. 23, sources at the OPCW told Reuters.
Sulfur mustard – which causes severe delayed burns to the eyes, scalp and lungs – is a so-called Schedule 1 chemical agent, entailing it has few utilizes outside warfare.
The third report by the OPCW fact-finding mission to Syria said the team had so far been unable to substantiate asserts from the Syrian government that its forces had been targeted by rebels hiring chemical weapons.
The mission “cannot confidently determine whether or not a chemical was used as a weapon” by militants in the Jober area on Aug. 29, 2014, it told.
Syria agreed during September 2013 to destroy its entire chemical weapons program under a bargain negotiated with the United States and Russia after hundreds of people were killed in a sarin gas assault in the outskirts of the capital, Damascus.
The last of 1,300 tonnes of chemical weapons declared to the OPCW was handed over in June, 2014, but several Western governments have carried doubt that the governmental forces of President Bashar al-Assad extol its entire arsenal.
With Syria's civil war in its fifth year, chlorine has also been used illegally in systematic assaults against civilians, the OPCW found.
A U.N.-OPCW joint investigative mission has been assigned to determine who was behind those attacks.
The three reports will be formally presented to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon later this month.
( Editing by Pravin Char, Janet McBride)
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