Reports of New Improvised Chemical Weapons Used by the Syrian Air Force

Last week, the OHCHR’s independent international commission of inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic published their latest report on the conflict in Syria, with one section detailing the use of chlorine gas as a chemical weapons by Syrian government forces. The report states

Reasonable grounds exist to believe that chemical agents, likely chlorine, were used on Kafr Zeita, Al-Tamana’a and Tal Minnis in eight incidents within a 10-day period in April. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that those agents were dropped in barrel bombs from government helicopters flying overhead.

Numerous videos and photographs from these attacks have been posted online (many of which are gathered here), with claims of the use of these chlorine barrel bombs investigated by the Daily Telegraph in May. Since then, more chemical attacks have been reported by residents of towns across Syria, with Kafr Zita, target of several chlorine barrel bomb attacks in April as per the UN report, including attacks in May and July, another attack reported in Al-Tamana’a in May, and other chemical attacks reported in location across Syria, including attacks on August 19th in Daraa and August 20th in Jobar, Damascus, just before the one year anniversary of the August 21st Sarin attacks in Damascus.

Recently, reports of two new chemical attacks were reported by activists in Kafr Zita, one of which may show attempts by the Syrian air force to use an improvised chemical weapon. A number of videos were posted online about the attacks, (translated here), many of which showed containers said to have been part of the barrel bombs used in the attacks.

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10603861_663255037103270_5818924215555530042_o10482000_663254347103339_5541058046531571708_oAccording to statements made in the videos, at 10pm on August 28th two containers were dropped on Kafr Zita, containing an unknown white powder, and 95%-97% sulphuric acid in a black container. Also found close to the impact sites were two gas cylinders, marked as oxygen cylinders, but containing an unknown substances according to reports.  A couple of hours later, a further attack was report on the town of Al Sayyad, just north of Kafr Zita, with this video from Al Aan claiming the target of the attack in Al Sayyad were caves used by civilians as shelters during attacks by Syrian government forces

On August 28th regime helicopters dropped a chlorine-filled barrel bomb on Al Sayyad, causing around 50 casualties, and victims showed symptoms of severe coughing, foaming at the mouth, headache, vomiting. Among those casualties only four were critical, but they pulled through and left the hospital yesterday. On the same day a container was dropped on Kafr Zita, but didn’t explode (more accurately the chemicals didn’t react or were not released). We found two cylinders in the impact site and a number of canisters stuffed inside a container.

Based on the information available it’s difficult to know what the Syrian air force was attempting to achieve by using these substances, perhaps an attempt at using improvised chemical weapon, especially considering they aren’t short on explosive barrel bombs to use, something the constant stream of footage from Syria can attest to. For now, this remains another mystery of the Syrian conflict, one we may only find the answer to after a successful attack using this new improvised munition.

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