Yesterday, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons noted another delivery of materials by Syria under the agreement calling for Syrian chemical weapons-related materials to be destroyed. Tuesday’s delivery took the current totals to 86.5% of all materials to be removed and 88.7% of the Priority 1, or most dangerous, chemicals. That leaves only “two or three” more deliveries to complete removal of all of the materials that Syria declared under the agreement and appears to have Syria on track to meet the current goal of all materials being removed later this month and destroyed by the end of June.
But, because this is Syria, significant controversy continues to swirl. The latest issue centers on the likely use of chlorine gas. That chlorine has been used seems fairly certain, but each side in the conflict accuses the other of being the perpetrator. It should be noted from the outset that chlorine is a widely used material with many peaceful uses and is not covered by the agreement under which Syria gave up its chemical weapons. It was used by Germany in WWI, but more effective chemical agents have since taken its place.
One central question on whether it is Assad’s forces who used the chlorine hinges on whether it can be shown that the gas was released from helicopters or airplanes, since the rebel forces have no air capabilities. Numerous news outlets quote anonymous US officials suggesting that chlorine has been delivered by aircraft, but no proof has been offered (nor has Syria provided proof that the rebels are responsible for the chlorine).
Today’s New York Times article is typical of the anonymous accusations against Syria:
Nearly 90 percent of the chemicals in Syria’s arsenal have now been exported and only a few shipments remain, international monitors reported Tuesday, but the progress was overshadowed by growing concerns that the Syrian military may be dropping bombs filled with chlorine, a common industrial compound not on the list of prohibited poisons.
Disarmament experts said that if the unconfirmed reports that Syrian warplanes and helicopters have been using chlorine-filled bombs in the civil war were true, that would be a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty signed by Syria last year and could constitute a war crime.
But CNN went much further in the accusations against Syria on Monday:
The Obama administration and its allies believe the Syrian government may have used chlorine gas in a deadly attack this month on its own people, several U.S. officials and other diplomats told CNN.
The alleged assault that killed at least two and affected dozens of others occurred in the village of Kafr Zeita, a rebel-held area.
While there is no firm proof as the matter is being looked into, several U.S. officials and Western diplomats say the United States believes the regime of Bashar al-Assad is responsible because it has such chemicals and the means to deliver them.
“Our assessment is it is, at a minimum, concentrated chlorine dropped from helicopters,” a U.S. official said. “That could only be the regime.”
The official did not speak for full attribution.
As usual for accusations in Syria, attention is turning to video posted to YouTube. Today, one focus is on a chlorine canister attached to a detonator. The chlorine canister appears to have come from China: Read more