Watchdog Blames Syrian Air Force For Deadly Chlorine Attack

Friday’s report said the standard was met by evidence suggesting that at least one Syrian Air Force Mi8/17 helicopter dropped two yellow cylinders on Douma during a government military offensive to retake the city.

One of the cylinders struck the roof of a three-story apartment building and ruptured, “rapidly releasing toxic gas, chlorine, in very high concentrations that quickly circulated throughout the building, killing 43 named people and affecting dozens more,” the report said.

Syrian President Bashar Assad waves to supporters at a polling station during elections in the city of Douma in May 2021.

Syrian President Bashar Assad waves to supporters at a polling station during elections in the city of Douma in May 2021.Credit:AP

A second cylinder burst through the roof of another building into an apartment below and only partially ruptured, “slightly disabling those who arrived at the scene first,” the report added.

The Syrian authorities denied the investigative team access to the sites of the chlorine attacks. The country had suspended its OPCW voting rights in 2021 as punishment for repeated use of poison gas, the first such sanction imposed on a member country.

The investigation by the organization’s team, set up to identify perpetrators of chemical weapons attacks in Syria, built on earlier findings from an OPCW fact-finding mission that chlorine was used as a weapon in Douma.


Investigators interviewed dozens of witnesses and examined blood and urine from survivors, as well as soil and building material samples, according to the regulator.

As part of the investigation, they also evaluated and dismissed alternative theories for what happened, including Syria’s claims that the attack was staged and that bodies of people killed elsewhere in Syria were brought to Douma to be seen as victims of a look gas attack.

The report noted that the two bottles loaded with chlorine were modified and filled at Dumayr Air Force Base and the helicopter or helicopters that dropped them were under the control of the Syrian military’s elite Tiger Force.

The OPCW team “considered a number of possible scenarios and examined their validity based on the evidence collected and analyzed to reach their conclusion: that the Syrian Arab Air Forces are the perpetrators of this attack,” the organization said in a statement.

British diplomats from the OPCW tweeted that they were studying the report, adding: “We will be working with partners on the next steps. #No Impunity”

Survivors reached by the Associated Press after the Douma attack said they were overwhelmed by the smell of chlorine. Activists said many of the dead were found with foam around their mouths, an indicator of suffocation. Medical workers said they were treating people for symptoms including trouble breathing and fainting.

Blaming the Syrian government forces, the United States, Britain and France launched punitive airstrikes. Syria denied responsibility.

Douma was the final target in the government’s sweeping campaign to regain control of the eastern Ghouta suburbs in Damascus from the rebels after seven years of revolt. Militants abandoned the city days after the alleged attack.

The OPCW Investigation and Identification Team effectively replaced a previous investigative mechanism established between the United Nations and the OPCW in 2015, which was dissolved in 2017 after Russia vetoed an extension of its Security Council mandate.

To ensure accountability for crimes in Syria, the United Nations has established an “international, impartial and independent mechanism”. It is charged with preserving and analyzing evidence of crimes and preparing files for trials before “any national, regional or international court or tribunal which, in accordance with international law, has or may have jurisdiction over those crimes”.

The ongoing conflict, which began in Syria more than a decade ago, has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced half of the country’s pre-war population of 23 million.


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Callan Tansill

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