Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 50

The official report concerning chlorine gas attacks in 2014 was released by the OPCW on Tuesday, 6 January. It revealed, with “a high degree of confidence,” that chlorine gas was used as a weapon against three opposition held villages in Syria. The attack is said to have affected 350 to 500 people, leaving 14 dead. This is the third of the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) official reports from the OPCW, which again did not assign blame as to the origin of the attacks. It did, however, say that 32 of the 37 people interviewed “saw or heard the sound of a helicopter over the village at the time of the attack with barrel bombs containing toxic chemicals.” In addition, 26 people heard the distinctive “whistling” sound of these falling barrel bombs. The impact sites were visited by 16 people, who saw the remnants of the bombs. And, finally, 29 people described the “distinctive odour of the gas cloud,” an “intense, chlorine-like [smell] similar to the cleaning material used to clean toilets, but much stronger.” The OPCW report included descriptions from 142 videos and 189 pieces of material obtained by international inspectors, in addition to photos of the sites and of the chlorine cylinders from the barrel bombs. Indeed, this mission concludes that chlorine was used for “hostile purposes.”

The UN Security Council discussed the findings of the report the same day it was released. A letter was signed by the US, other Western UNSC member nations, and Jordan urging the UNSC to take action in response to the report’s findings. Predictably, Russia insisted the report remain an issue only for the OPCW.

Despite the apparent UN condemnation of these attacks, and support for the findings of the OPCW report, criticism has been raised about a Syrian photography exhibition at the UN in New York City. Syrian opposition representative to the UN Najib Ghadbian accused the photographer, Hagop Vanesian, of being embedded with Syrian government forces in Aleppo. Others have criticised the photographer for being “in bed” with the Syrian government. The photographer has defended his pictures, saying they are just photos depicting the “suffering of the people.” Ghadbian worked in Syria with the Red Crescent Society.