The worldwide chemical weapons watchdog said Wednesday that chlorine was likely used as a weapon in the rebel-held northern Syrian town of Saraqeb in early February, the latest report of poison gas being unleashed in Syria's civil war. The document was also submitted to the Security Council through the United Nations secretary-general. "It does not include identifying who is responsible for alleged attacks". Moscow has also become increasingly critical of the OPCW's neutrality and working methods, especially after its experts found that a military-grade nerve agent had been deployed in the Salisbury attack on Russian former double-agent Sergei Skripal.
The Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons believes that chlorine was likely used as a chemical weapon on February 4, in Saraqib, Syria's Idlib province, the OPCW press service said on Wednesday.
The conclusions are based on the presence of two cylinders, which were determined as previously containing chlorine, witness testimony and environmental samples confirming "the unusual presence of chlorine", it said.
The watchdog added that environmental samples also "demonstrated the usual presence of chlorine in the local environment". Its team had also interviewed witnesses, and found that a number of patients at medical facilities shortly after the incident showed signs and symptoms consistent with exposure to chlorine. Western observers said the use of helicopters in the attack suggested Syrian government involvement since the opposition did not have access to helicopters.
The Syrian government produced a three-page denial of responsibility, and failed to answer a further set of OPCW questions sent on 14 March.
Medics have claimed the Douma attack on 7 April led to 40 deaths.
Eleven people had to be treated for breathing difficulties on February 4 after Syrian regime raids on Saraqeb, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at the time.
"I strongly condemn the continued use of toxic chemicals as weapons by anyone, for any reason, and in any circumstances", said OPCW Director General Ahmet Uzumcu. "Such acts contradict the unequivocal prohibition against chemical weapons enshrined in the Chemical Weapons Convention".
The US, UK and France said they were confident that chemical weapons had been used in Douma by government forces and in response carried out missile strikes on Syria's "chemical weapons infrastructure".
The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied using chemical weapons and instead has blamed rebels for staging attacks to falsely implicate his forces in the atrocities.