You choose, we deliver
If you are interested in this story, you might be interested in others from The Journal Gazette. Go to www.journalgazette.net/newsletter and pick the subjects you care most about. We'll deliver your customized daily news report at 3 a.m. Fort Wayne time, right to your email.

World

  • US military attacks al-Shabab in Somalia
    U.S. military forces attacked the extremist al-Shabab network in Somalia Monday, the Pentagon said, and a witness described ground-shaking explosions in a strike that reportedly targeted the group’s leader.
  • Group accuses extremists of war crimes in Iraq
    An international rights group accused the extremist Islamic State group on Tuesday of carrying out a systematic campaign of “ethnic cleansing” in northern Iraq that includes mass killings, abductions and other war crimes.
  • Clashes between Islamists, rivals in Libya kill 31
    Fierce clashes between Libyan Islamist militiamen and rival forces loyal to a renegade general have killed 31 fighters on both sides, a Libyan security official said Tuesday.
Advertisement
Associated Press
In an August photo, a member of a United Nations team in Syria takes samples of sand near a missile that activists suspected was a chemical rocket. Reports say Syrian forces more recently have attacked rebel areas with chlorine gas.

Assad accused of new gas strikes

Activists allege chlorine used in rebel-held areas

– Syrian government forces have attacked rebel-held areas with poisonous chlorine gas in recent weeks and months, leaving men, women and children coughing, choking and gasping for breath, according to Associated Press interviews with more than a dozen activists, medics and residents on the opposition side.

Syria flatly denied the allegations, and they have yet to be confirmed by any foreign country or international organization. But if true, they highlight the limitations of the global effort to rid President Bashar Assad’s government of its chemical weapons.

Witnesses near Damascus and in a central rebel-held village told the AP of dozens of cases of choking, fainting and other afflictions from inhaling fumes that some said were yellowish and smelled like chlorine cleanser. Some of those interviewed said they believe the gas was responsible for at least two deaths.

They said the fumes came from hand grenades and helicopter-dropped “barrel bombs,” which are crude containers packed with explosives and shrapnel.

Activists have posted videos similar, though on a far smaller scale, to those from last August’s chemical weapons attack near Damascus that killed hundreds of people and nearly triggered U.S. airstrikes against Syria. The new footage depicts pale-faced men, women and children coughing and gasping at field hospitals.

The U.N. Security Council called for an investigation Wednesday. Council members expressed “grave concern” over the allegations, said council president U. Joy Ogwu, Nigeria’s U.N. ambassador.

It’s an accusation that carries high stakes, and the Syrian opposition has an interest in pushing such claims in hopes of spurring the world to take stern action against Assad, who has been locked in a civil war for three years and faces a Sunday deadline for handing over all his chemical weapons for destruction.

Chlorine is a potentially lethal chemical with a multitude of ordinary civilian uses, including laundry bleach and swimming-pool disinfectant. In high concentrations, it can attack the lungs and asphyxiate victims.

While chlorine was first deployed on the battlefield in World War I, it is no longer officially considered a warfare agent and is not among the chemicals declared by Syria. It is not as effective at killing as sarin – the nerve agent that was apparently used last summer – and experts say it is difficult to achieve high concentrations of chlorine by dropping it from the air.

Still, any toxic chemical is considered to be a chemical weapon if used for military purposes. Consequently, Syria’s use of chlorine-filled bombs, if confirmed, would be a violation of the chemical weapons treaty that Assad’s government signed last year as part of a deal to hand over its stockpile.

On Wednesday, Syria’s U.N. ambassador, Bashar Ja’afari, said his government categorically denied the use of chlorine gas. Ja’afari further disputed that chlorine gas could be categorized as a chemical weapon, saying “it is a mundane substance used for bleaching clothes in the laundry or disinfecting swimming pools.”

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Monday that officials were still trying to determine what happened. On Sunday, French President Francois Hollande told Europe 1 radio station there were “elements” suggesting recent use of chemical weapons, but no proof.

Advertisement