Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War

The use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War[1] has been confirmed by the United Nations.[2] Deadly attacks during the war included the Ghouta attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the Khan al-Assal attack in the suburbs of Aleppo in March 2013. While no party took responsibility for the chemical attacks, the Syrian Ba'athist military was seen as the main suspect, due to a large arsenal of such weapons. A U.N. fact-finding mission and a UNHRC Commission of Inquiry have simultaneously investigated the attacks. The U.N. mission found the likely use of the nerve agent sarin in the case of Khan al-Assal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013), Ghouta (21 August 2013), Jobar (24 August 2013) and Ashrafiyat Sahnaya (25 August 2013). The UNHRC commission later confirmed the use of sarin in the Khan al-Asal, Saraqib and Ghouta attacks, but did not mention the Jobar and the Ashrafiyat Sahnaya attacks. The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile. Those attacks prompted the international community to pressure disarmament of the Syrian Armed Forces from chemical weapons, which was executed during 2014. Despite the disarmament process, dozens of incidents with suspected use of chemical weapons followed throughout Syria, mainly blamed on Syrian Ba'athist forces, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and on Syrian opposition forces and Turkish Armed Forces.[3] There have been a number of evidence-gathering processes developed at the international level

In August 2016, reports[2][4] by the United Nations and the OPCW explicitly blamed the Syrian military of Bashar al-Assad for dropping chemical weapons (chlorine bombs) on the towns of Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin and Qmenas in March 2015 and ISIS for using sulfur mustard on the town of Marea in August 2015.[5] Several other attacks have been alleged, reported and/or investigated.

In December 2016, at least 53 people were killed in an apparent nerve gas attack in ISIS-held villages near Uqairabat, marking the first major nerve gas attack since the 2013 accord.[6][7] The Khan Shaykhun chemical attack on 4 April 2017 drew international condemnation and resulted in U.S. military action against the Syrian government-controlled airbase at Shayrat. The Douma chemical attack on 7 April 2018 also drew a military response from the United States, United Kingdom and France. In June 2018 the OPCW FFM confirmed sarin use in Latamenah while investigating 25 March 2017 chlorine attack. Hexamine was detected with samples, along with HFP, which the OPCW-UN JIM has previously described as being one of the key indicators that the sarin used in Khan Sheikhoun came from the Syrian governments sarin process.


At the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 concerns were raised about both the security of Syria's chemical weapon sites and about the potential use of chemical weapons. In July 2012, Syrian Foreign Ministry spokesman Jihad Makdissi stated: "No chemical or biological weapons will ever be used... All of these types of weapons are in storage and under security and the direct supervision of the Syrian armed forces and will never be used unless Syria is exposed to external aggression."[8]

A Syrian defector who worked inside the chemical weapons network alleged that in January 2012 two senior Syrian officers moved about 100 kg. of chemical weapons materials from a secret military base in Nasiriyah. The Syrian source also described construction of special trucks, which could transport and mix the weapons. These mobile mixers were constructed inside Mercedes or Volvo trucks that were similar to refrigerator trucks. Inside were storage tanks, pipes and a motor to drive the mixing machinery, the defector said.[9] On 23 July 2012, the Syrian government confirmed for the first time that it had chemical weapons, but stated that they would only be used in instances of external aggression.[10]

On 20 August 2012, President Barack Obama used the phrase "red line"[11] in reference to the use of chemical weapons. Specifically, Obama said: "We have been very clear to the Assad regime, but also to other players on the ground, that a red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilized. That would change my calculus. That would change my equation." [12]

In September 2012, the Syrian military began moving chemical weapons from Damascus to the port city of Tartus.[13] That same month, it was reported that the military had restarted testing of chemical weapons at a base on the outskirts of Aleppo.[14] On 28 September 2012, US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta said that the Syrian government had moved its chemical weapons in order to secure them from approaching opposition forces.[15] It emerged that the Russian government had helped set up communications between the United States and Syria regarding the status of Syria's chemical weapons. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Syria had given the United States "explanations" and "assurances" that it was taking care of the weapons.[16] On 8 December, it was reported that members of the jihadist Al-Nusra Front had recently captured a Saudi-owned toxic chemicals plant outside of Aleppo.[17] On 22 December 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that Syria had consolidated chemical weapons into one or two places to prevent rebels capturing them, and that recent moves that had alarmed Western governments were part of this consolidation.[18][19][20][21] Brigadier General Mustafa al-Sheikh, a Syrian army defector, confirmed that most of the chemical weapons have been transported to Alawite areas in Latakia and near the coast. Some chemical munitions remain in bases around Damascus.[22] In December 2012 McClatchy reported various chemical weapons experts' skepticism that Syria was preparing to use chemical weapons, noting their "limited utility" in a civil war situation with fluid battlelines, and Syria's comments that such use would be "suicide" in view of US threats of retaliation.[23]

On 6 September 2013 a bill was filed in the US Congress to authorize the use of military force against the Syrian military, mainly in response to the use of sarin in the Ghouta attack on 21 August 2013.[24] On 9 September 2013, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the air strikes could be averted if Syria turned over "every single bit" of its chemical weapons stockpiles.[25] Hours after Kerry's statement, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia had suggested to Syria that it relinquish its chemical weapons.[26] The Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem immediately welcomed the proposal.[26][27]

In September 2013 the Syrian government entered into several international agreements for the destruction of its chemical weapons that stipulated an initial destruction deadline of 30 June 2014, a deadline apparently achieved in respect of declared chemical weapons.[28] Prior to September 2013 the Syrian government had not publicly admitted to possessing chemical weapons, although Western intelligence services believed it to hold one of the world's largest stockpiles.[29]

On 17 August 2017, Reuters published a report detailing the extent of Syria's failure to abandon chemical weapons, citing information from investigators, inspectors and diplomatic sources.[30] According to a source cited in the report, "There are certainly some gaps, uncertainties, discrepancies" regarding Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. For example, the Syrian government inaccurately or even falsely declared the types, purposes and quantities of chemicals in its possession, and is suspected of continuing to hold at least 2,000 chemical bomb shells that should have been converted to conventional weapons.[30]

In June of 2019, United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Michael Mulroy stated that the United States “will respond quickly and appropriately,” if the regime uses chemical weapons again. He added that Bashar al-Assad has done more than any other to destabilize the region by "murdering his own people" and that both Russia and the Syrian regime have shown no concern for the suffering of the Syrian people creating one of the "worst humanitarian tragedies in history". [31]


Reported chemical weapons attacks

The table below lists the reported attacks and the main points. See the main articles for details.[N 1]

Date Location Governorate Impact points Civilian victims Soldier/militias victims CW-agent Main article Notes
Time of day Coordinates Controlled by Deaths Non-fatal Deaths Non-fatal Unit
17 October 2012 Salqin Idlib Reported by the Government of France.[32](p4)[N 2]
23 December 2012 Al-Bayadah Homs Free Syrian Army 5 App. 100 Most likely Agent 15 Reported by the Government of France, UK and Qatar,[32](p3) and also Haaretz[33] and Foreign Policy.[34][N 2]
13 March 2013 Darayya Rif Dimashq Reported by the Government of UK and Qatar.[32](p4)[N 2]
14 March 2013 Otaybah Rif Dimashq Reported by Le Monde.[35]
19 March 2013 Khan al-Asal Aleppo Early morning 36.167222°N 37.039167°E / 36.167222; 37.039167 Syrian Army 19 107 1 17 Syrian Army Sarin Khan al-Assal chemical attack Reported by the Governments of Syria, Russia, France, UK and US. Confirmed by the U.N.[32]
19 March 2013 Otaybah Rif Dimashq Reported by the Governments of France and UK.[32](p6)[N 2]
24 March 2013 Adra Rif Dimashq Phosphorus[36] Reported by the Government of UK.[32](p4)[N 2]
11 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by Le Monde.[35]
12 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by Le Monde.[35][N 2]
13 April 2013 Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo People's Protection Units (YPG) and Kurdish Front Brigade 3 more than a dozen Reported by the Government of US.[32](p4)[N 2]
13 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by the Government of France.[32](p5)[N 2]
14 April 2013 Jobar Damascus Jobar chemical attacks Reported by the Government of France.[32](p5)[N 2]
25 April 2013 Darayya Rif Dimashq Reported by the Government of UK.[32](p4)[N 2]
29 April 2013 Saraqib Idlib A:35.8672041°N 36.7995858°E / 35.8672041; 36.7995858
B:35.8613742°N 36.7970538°E / 35.8613742; 36.7970538
C:35.8542831°N 36.7974508°E / 35.8542831; 36.7974508
Free Syrian Army 1 10 2 Free Syrian Army Sarin/Tear gas Saraqib chemical attack Reported by the Governments of UK and France.[32](p4) Allegedly some of the hand grenade–type munitions contained tear gas, whereas other grenades were filled with sarin. Ref. U.N.[32] A French report of 2017 said hexamine was present in the Sarin used in Saraqib, linking it to Syrian regime later attacks in Ghouta and Khan Shakoun. The sarin present in the munitions used on 4April wasproduced using the same manufacturing process as that used during the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqib. Moreover, the presence of hexamine indicates that this manufacturing process is that developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre for the Syrian regime.[37]
14 May 2013 Qasr Abu Samrah Hama Reported by the Governments of US.[32](p5)[N 2]
23 May 2013 Adra Rif Dimashq Reported by the Governments of US.[32](p5)[N 2]
5 August 2013 Adra Rif Dimashq Ref. Human Rights Watch.[38]
21 August 2013 Zamalka/Ein Tarma Rif Dimashq Between 02:00 and 03:00 Ein Tarma:

A:33.5205744°N 36.3563669°E / 33.5205744; 36.3563669
B:33.5207063°N 36.3573325°E / 33.5207063; 36.3573325

C:33.5213347°N 36.3481593°E / 33.5213347; 36.3481593
D:33.5217908°N 36.3522577°E / 33.5217908; 36.3522577
E:33.5224617°N 36.3594246°E / 33.5224617; 36.3594246
F:33.5234724°N 36.3544142°E / 33.5234724; 36.3544142
G:33.5238391°N 36.3625681°E / 33.5238391; 36.3625681
H:33.5246083°N 36.3612056°E / 33.5246083; 36.3612056
I:33.5250734°N 36.3584054°E / 33.5250734; 36.3584054
J:33.5257263°N 36.3593173°E / 33.5257263; 36.3593173
K:33.5257352°N 36.3625896°E / 33.5257352; 36.3625896
L:33.5274345°N 36.360873°E / 33.5274345; 36.360873

734 Sarin Ghouta chemical attack Reported by multiple U.N. Member States.[32][38][39][40]
21 August 2013 Muadamiyat al-Sham Rif Dimashq App. 05:00 Four 140mm rockets impacted next to the Rawda Mosque (33.4602966°N 36.1972287°E / 33.4602966; 36.1972287). Three 140mm rockets impacted app. 500 meters to the east of the Rawda Mosque (33.4601064°N 36.2025046°E / 33.4601064; 36.2025046). 103 Sarin Ghouta chemical attack Reported by multiple U.N. Member States.[32](p5)[38][39][40]
22 August 2013 Al-Bahariyah Rif Dimashq App. 17:00 33.528653°N 36.525669°E / 33.528653; 36.525669 Syrian Army 16 Syrian Army Reported by the Government of Syria.[32](p5) The U.N. mission investigated the attack, but did not find reliable information to support the allegation that a CW-agent were used.[32]
24 August 2013 Jobar Damascus App. 11:00 33.5342371°N 36.3450721°E / 33.5342371; 36.3450721 Syrian Army 24 Syrian Army Sarin Jobar sarin attack Ref. U.N.[32]
25 August 2013 Ashrafiyat Sahnaya Rif Dimashq App. 20:00 33.4463166°N 36.2513208°E / 33.4463166; 36.2513208 Syrian Army 5 Syrian Army Sarin Ashrafiyat Sahnaya chemical attack Ref. U.N.[32]
10 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama Midnight, night to 11 April Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
11 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 18:00 – 19:00 hrs A:35.3734621°N 36.590867°E / 35.3734621; 36.590867
B:35.373742°N 36.599772°E / 35.373742; 36.599772
C:35.3771188°N 36.5998149°E / 35.3771188; 36.5998149
Syrian opposition 2 107 affected, 5 seriously (12 patients) Chlorine 2014 Kafr Zita chemical attack Ref.OPCW,[41] UNHRC,[42] HRW,[43] SOHR, VDC and SANA.[44][45][46][47][48][49]
11 April 2014 Harasta Rif Dimashq Ref.[50][51]
12 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 21:00 – 22:00 Syrian opposition 5 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41] and UNHRC.[42]
12 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib 22:45 Residential house, 100 m from Western school Syrian opposition 25 Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41] and UNHRC.[42]
13 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib App. 22:30 Syrian opposition 112 affected Chlorine Ref. Human Rights Watch[43]
14 April 2014 Halfaya Hama 23:00 4 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
16 April 2014 Harasta Rif Dimashq Ref. The Times of Israel.[52]
16 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 22:00 Al-Zowar region Syrian opposition 4 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41] and UNHRC.[42]
18 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib App. 22:00 Residential house, 150 m from medical unit Syrian opposition 4 70 Chlorine Ref. OPCW,[41] UNHRC[42] and HRW.[43]
18 April 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 22:30 Syrian opposition App. 100 affected (35 patients) Chlorine Ref. OPCW,[41] UNHRC[42] and HRW.[43][49]
21 April 2014 Talmenes Idlib Around 10:30 to 10:45. Two “barrel bombs” struck two houses 100 m from each other, in the neighbourhood around the big mosque (35.6376885°N 36.7392683°E / 35.6376885; 36.7392683). Syrian opposition 3 App. 133 (4 severely) Chlorine Talmenes chemical attack Ref. OPCW,[41] UNHRC[42] and Human Rights Watch.[43][49] According OPCW investigation the attack was conducted by Syrian Armed Forces helicopter.[2]
22 April 2014 Darayya Rif Dimashq Ref. The Daily Star.[53]
29 April 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib Night to 30 April Residential house, 20 m from northern school Syrian opposition 35 Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41] and UNHRC.[42]
19 May 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 20:00 Syrian opposition 1 130 affected (2 patients) Chlorine Ref. Al Arabiya.[54][55]
21 May 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib Chlorine Ref. International Business Times.[56]
21 May 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 20:00 Syrian opposition 4 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41]
22 May 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib 10:00–11:00 Residential house Syrian opposition 4 12 Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
22 May 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 20:00 Syrian opposition dozens (38 patients) Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41] and CNN.[45]
25 May 2014 Al-Tamanah Idlib Night to 26 May Residential house, 50 m from main road Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
29 May 2014 Al-Lataminah Hama Night 17 patients Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
12 July 2014 Avdiko Aleppo People's Protection Units (YPG) 3 People's Protection Units (YPG) Most likely mustard gas Ref. The Huffington Post[57] and the MERIA Journal.[58]
27 July 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 19:00 Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
21 August 2014 Jobar Damascus 6 Ref. ARA News.[59]
28 August 2014 Kafr Zita Hama 21:30 – 22:00 Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW[41] and Channel News Asia.[60]
30 August 2014 Kafr Zita Hama Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. OPCW.[41]
15 February 2015 Darayya Rif Dimashq Around noon 33.4594664°N 36.2392831°E / 33.4594664; 36.2392831
50 to 100 m northwest of the Shrine of Sukayna
Syrian Army 4 Syrian Army Possibly sarin Five to eight government soldiers were allegedly exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance. Ref.[49][61]
21 February 2015 Hayan Aleppo Syrian opposition Noxious gas Ref. civil defence team.[62]
9 March 2015 Mzeireb Daraa Syrian opposition Chlorine Ref. anti-regime activists.[63]
16 March 2015 Qmenas Idlib Around 20:30 – 20:45 Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa 70 affected, 1 seriously Most likely Chlorine 20 of the victims were from the western neighborhood of Sarmin. The wind allegedly carried the gas from Qmenas to Sarmin. Reported by MESOP.[49][64] Investigated by Human Rights Watch.[65]
16 March 2015 Sarmin Idlib Around 22:30 – 22:45 Two barrel bombs were allegedly dropped by a helicopter into the southeastern neighborhood of Sarmin (Kournesh). Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa 6 30 affected, ranged between moderate and severe. Most likely Chlorine Sarmin chemical attack Reported by LCC and SOHR.[49][64][66][67][68] Investigated by Human Rights Watch.[65] According OPCW investigation the attack was conducted by Syrian Armed Forces helicopter.[2]
24 March 2015 Binnish Idlib About 19:30 Two barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas were dropped on Binnish. Syrian opposition At least 30 affected Chlorine Ref. The Times.[49][69] Investigated by Human Rights Watch.[65]
23 March 2015 Qmenas Idlib Chlorine Ref. activists.[70] Investigated by Human Rights Watch.[65]
24 March 2015 Binnish Idlib Early evening 30 wounded Chlorine Ref. activists.[70][71] Investigated by Human Rights Watch.[65]
31 March 2015 idlib Idlib 2 p.m. ? Investigated by Human Rights Watch.[65]
28 June 2015 Tell Brak Al-Hasakah 17 projectiles impacted south of the village. People's Protection Units (YPG) 12 People's Protection Units (YPG) Mustard gas Ref. CAR.[72][73][74][75][76][77]
28 June 2015 Al-Hasakah Al-Hasakah 7 projectiles impacted in the al-Salehiyah neighborhood. People's Protection Units (YPG) People's Protection Units (YPG) Mustard gas Ref. CAR.[72][73][74][75][76][77]
21 August 2015 Mare' Aleppo About 19:30 Islamic Front 1 (a baby) Around 30 Mustard gas At least 50 mortar and artillery shells were fired at residential areas. At least half of them contained poisonous gas. Ref.[49][78][79][80][81][82][83] According OPCW investigation the attack was conducted by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.[2]
7 April 2016 Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo People's Protection Units 23 100+ Unknown A district of Aleppo in Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters have been the target of a chemical attack by Islamic terrorists. Videos show a yellow gas rises above the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood.[84]
15 June 2016 Eastern Ghouta Damascus Syrian Army None Several Syrian Army Unknown Reported by Syrian Army.[85]
1 August 2016 Saraqib Idlib app. 11:00 Syrian opposition ? 28 injured None None - chlorine Reported by Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic[86]
10 August 2016 Aleppo Aleppo Governorate Syrian opposition 3+ 22-55 injured None None - chlorine Reported by activists[87]
25 August 2016 Dandaniya Aleppo Around 17:00 Syrian Democratic Forces Dozens Unknown Reported by local sources.[88][89]</ref>
8 October 2016 Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo Early morning People's Protection Units 3 4+ Unknown Unknown People's Protection Units Noxious gas Local sources reported an attack by elephant rockets loaded with chemical substances.[90]
25 November 2016 Sheikh Maqsood Aleppo 16:35 People's Protection Units 3 patients Unknown Unknown People's Protection Units Unknown The Kurdish Red Crescent reported taking 3 patients with chemical wounds after the area was hit by shells suspected to be loaded with poisonous chemicals.[91]
8 January 2017 Wadi Barada Damascus ? Syrian opposition ? at least 6 injured ? ? - Chlorine Reported by Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic[86]
25 March 2017 Al-Lataminah Sarin Chlorine [92][93][94]
30 March 2017 Al-Lataminah Hama 70+ Syrian warplanes dropping Sarin [95] Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations report[96][97]
3 April 2017 Hbit Idlib "evening hours" 2 children App. 20 affected. Chlorine According to local activists.[98][99]
4 April 2017 Khan Shaykhun Idlib 06:30 Tahrir al-Sham 58–100+ 300–400+ Sarin[100] 2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack On 4 April 2017, the Syrian government bombed a city in the far-north of the rebel-held Syrian territory with what both witnesses and inspectors claim to have been aerosol dispersion munitions containing some form of an organophosphate nerve agent. It is considered the worst chemical attack in the country since 2015 and resulted in Trump implementing a strike against the air-base from which the bombers are believed to have launched.[101][102] Syrian officials thoroughly denied the accusations and blamed rebel forces for the chemical release, claiming that one of the Syrian ballistic munitions unintentionally struck a factory which the regimes alleges was being used by rebel forces to manufacture chemical weapons which they intended to transport to Iran. In an emergency meeting of the UN, Russia implemented its veto power to prevent unified international retaliation against the regime in response to the re-escalation of the conflict and violating the CWC for the first time since the Syrian government formalized its accession to the treaty in 2015.
11 January 2018 Douma Damascus Governorate 6 Chlorine[36]
22 January 2018 East Ghouta[103] Damascus Governorate 21 Chlorine[104][105][106][107]
1 February 2018 Douma Damascus Governorate 3 Chlorine[36]
5 February 2018 Saraqeb Idlib 9 Chlorine According to Syria Civil Defence medics.[108]
16 February 2018 Aranda, Afrin Aleppo Governorate Syrian Democratic Forces 6 Chlorine SOHR suspects this to be a chemical attack was launched by Turkish Armed Forces.[109]
26 February 2018 Douma Damascus Governorate 1 13 [36]
7 April 2018 Douma Rif Dimashq "at least 42"[N 3][110] 2018 Douma chemical attack
24 November 2018 Aleppo Aleppo Syrian Army 48[111]

or 107[112]

Chlorine[113] Reported by the Government of Syria[114] and the SOHR.[115]

"The suspected chlorine attack marked the highest casualty toll in Aleppo since government forces and their allies clawed back the city from rebels nearly two years ago."[112]


The UN mission to investigate alleged use of chemical weapons

The United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic was a fact-finding mission to investigate possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. On 16 September 2013 the mission published a report with focus on the Ghouta attacks.[40] On 12 December 2013, the UN mission delivered its final report.[32]

The UNHRC commission of inquiry

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22 March 2011 to investigate human rights violations during the Syrian civil war. In its report dated 12 February 2014 they confirmed the use of sarin in the case of Khan Al-Assal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013) and Al-Ghouta (21 August 2013). The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile.[39] In none of the incidents, however, was the commission's "evidentiary threshold" met in regards to identifying the perpetrators of the chemical attacks.[116]

In its report dated 13 August 2014 they accused Government forces of using chlorine gas in 8 incidents in Idlib and Hama governorates in April 2014.[42] In March 2017, the Commission documented conclusive evidence that Syrian aircraft dropped “toxic industrial chemicals, including chlorine,” between 21 July and 22 December 22, during the final period of the Battle of Aleppo (2012–2016).[117]

OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria

The OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria was established in October 2013. The Mission was tasked to oversee the elimination of the Syrian chemical weapons program. The first OPCW-UN team arrived in Damascus on 1 October 2013. The mission officially ended on 30 September 2014. And it is very penial.

The Russian Khan al-Asal investigation

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said that its Syrian ally had asked Russian experts to look into the Khan al-Assal attack. A Russian team investigated the Khan al-Asal incident on 19 March 2013.[32] The Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a report with analysis of the samples taken at the site to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 9 July 2013.[32] Churkin said the chemical agent was carried by a "Bashair-3 unguided projectile", which was produced by the Basha'ir al-Nasr Brigade, a rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.[118] However, following Churkin's announcement, Western governments said that they had yet to see any evidence that backs up the assertion that anyone besides the Assad regime had the ability to use chemical weapons.[119] The Russian report was not released.[120]

The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria

On 29 April 2014, the Director General Ahmet Üzümcü of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the creation of an OPCW mission to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine gas for hostile purposes in Syria.[121] The Syrian Government has agreed to the mission.[122]

On 27 May 2014, members of the mission were ambushed and briefly held by gunmen in rebel-held territory as it headed toward Kafr Zita to investigate the alleged chlorine gas attacks.[123] According to the Associated Press, the OPCW said that the captive members of the mission were later "released after the intervention by Syria's main opposition group."[123] The opposition Hama Media Centre said the attack on the convoy was carried out by President Bashar Assad's forces.[124]

In its third report dated 18 December 2014, the mission concluded that chlorine was used in the villages of Talmenes, Al-Tamanah and Kafr Zita, but did not assign blame.[41]

In early 2015 the mission disclosed previously undeclared traces of sarin and VX precursor compounds in a Syrian government military research site, the Scientific Studies and Research Centre, where use of those compounds had not been previously declared.[125][126]

The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism

On 7 August 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2235 (2015) to establish a joint investigation mechanism (JIM) to identify the perpetrators responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The resolution was drafted by the United States, and adopted by all 15 members of the Security Council.[127][128] The JIM issued its first report on 12 February 2016.[129] The second was released on 10 June 2016,[130] while the third report was issued on 30 August 2016.[2] The third report blamed the Syrian government for two gas attacks in 2015, and accused ISIS of using mustard gas.[131] In October 2016 the leaked fourth report of task force determined that the Syria had conducted at least three gas attacks in 2015.[131]

In January 2017, they declared that they had composed a list of those responsible for using chemical weapons in the war. The list, which has not been made public, is divided into three sections. The first, is titled "Inner-Circle President" and has six people, including Assad, his brother, the defense minister and the head of military intelligence. The second section names the air force chief and its four commanders, including the heads of the 22nd Air Force Division and the 63rd Helicopter Brigade. The last section titled "Other relevant Senior Mil Personnel" includes two colonels and major-generals. This they said indicates that the decision to use gas came from the very top.[132]

On 26 October 2017, the JIM delivered the report (37 pages) to the UN.[133]

In late 2017, the JIM released its report on the April Khan Shaykhun chemical attack, attributing responsibility for the incident to the Syrian government.[32][134][135][136]

Reuters reported in 2018 that, according to OPCW and diplomatic sources, an OPCW chemical marker analysis linked the destroyed stockpile samples to sarin samples from 21 August 2013 Ghouta attack and also to interviewees' samples from Khan Sheikhoun and Khan Al-Assal attack sites. These findings were not released because they were outside the OPCW's mandate.[137][138]

Other allegations

In February 2012 a defector from the Syrian Arab Army, a lieutenant who worked in the chemical weapons department, told Turkish newspaper Hürriyet Daily News that "BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people's nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr." He said that some Syrian soldiers had been supplied with gas masks for protection.[139]

In December 2012, the Syrian government claimed that chemical plant SYSACCO 29 kilometers (18 mi) east of Aleppo was taken by rebel fighters from the Al-Nusra Front. The factory produces chlorine among other chemicals.[140] On 5 November 2014, the Syrian UN-ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, said "terrorist organizations stole about 200 tons of [chlorine gas] from" the factory.[141]

In January 2013, US State Department cables showed a US investigation had found evidence that the Syrian military had used a chemical weapon on 23 December 2012, which was the first time an official investigation documented chemical weapon use in the conflict.[142] On 4 June, the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius similarly declared certainty that the Syrian government had used sarin on multiple instances.[143]

On 30 May 2013, Turkish newspapers reported that Turkish security forces had arrested Al-Nusra Front fighters in the southern provinces of Mersin and Adana near the Syrian border and confiscated 2 kg of sarin gas.[144] The Turkish Ambassador to Moscow later said that tests showed the chemical seized was not sarin, but anti-freeze.[145] In September six of those arrested in May were charged with attempting to acquire chemicals which could be used to produce sarin; the indictment said that it was "possible to produce sarin gas by combining the materials in proper conditions."[146]

On 1 June 2013, the Syrian Army reported that it seized two cylinders holding the nerve agent sarin in an area it said was controlled by opposition fighters. The Syrian government declared the two cylinders "as abandoned chemical weapons" and told the OPCW that "the items did not belong to" them.[147] On 14 June 2014, the Joint OPCW-UN Mission confirmed that the cylinders contained sarin.[147] On 7 July 2014, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon informed the U.N. Security Council about the findings.[147]

In September 2015 a US official stated that ISIS was manufacturing and using mustard agent in Syria and Iraq, and had an active chemical weapons research team.[148][149] In February 2016, the CIA Director John O. Brennan said on 60 Minutes that there were "a number of instances where ISIL has used chemical munitions on the battlefield".[150]

On 8 April 2016, a spokesman for the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group said that “weapons not authorized for use in these types of confrontations” had been used against Kurdish militia and civilians in Aleppo (160 killed or wounded).[151] He stated that “One of our commanders has unlawfully used a type of weapon that is not included in our list”.[152] He did not specify what substances were used but, according to Kurdish Red Crescent, the symptoms were consistent with the use of "chlorine gas or other agents".[153] Jaysh al-Islam subsequently clarified that it was referring to “modified Grad rockets,” not chemical weapons.[154][151]

On 4 May 2017, the BBC reported that, according to a Western intelligence agency, Syria was violating the 2013 disarmament deal by producing chemical and biological munitions at Masyaf, Dummar, and Barzeh.[155]

On 27 June 2017, US officials stated that the Syrian government was preparing at a Syrian base for what seemed another chemical attack. The Trump administration warned that if another attack occurred, President Assad would pay a heavy price. This threat comes as the intelligence community states that the activity is similar to the preparations leading to the attack in Khan Sheikhoun.[156]

Around 16 February 2018, the SOHR and the U.S.-backed Kurdish YPG stated that Turkey was suspected of conducting a chemical gas attack in Afrin. Syrian state news agency SANA, citing a doctor in a Afrin hospital, stated the shelling caused choking in six people.[3]

In April 2018, Human Rights Watch published a report based on seven data sources, including the UN investigations, and was able to confirm 85 chemical attacks between 21 August 2013 and 25 February 2018, including 50 perpetrated by the government (including 42 using chlorine and 2 using sarin) and three by ISIS, with the remainder not attributed.[157]

See also


  1. All times given are given in Eastern European Time (EET), or UTC+02:00 unless otherwise stated.
  2. In their final report, the U.N. mission stated: "The United Nations Mission did not receive sufficient or credible information in respect of the alleged incidents in Salquin on 17 October 2012, Homs on 23 December 2012, Darayya on 13 March and 25 April 2013, Otaybah on 19 March 2013, Adra on 24 March and 23 May 2013, Jobar between 11 and 14 April 2013, and Qasr Abu Samrah on 14 May 2013."[32](p10)
  3. according to rescue workers

Further reading

  • Nair, Ajay (9 April 2018). "Chemical attacks in Syria: A deadly history". Sky News. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  • Eliot Higgins Chemical munitions used by the Syrian government 2012-2018 Bellingcat June 14, 2018
  • Eliot Higgins What We Know About Hexamine and Syria's Sarin Bellingcat June 21, 2018
  • Sen, Ashish Kumar (9 April 2018). "A Brief History of Chemical Weapons in Syria". Atlantic Council. Retrieved 27 November 2018.
  • Brett Edwards and Mattia Cacciatori ( 25 January 2018). ''The politics of international chemical weapon justice: The case of Syria, 2011-2017''. Contemporary Security Policy.


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