Chemical claims emerge as election announced

2014-04-22 21:19

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Beirut - New claims have emerged that President Bashar al-Assad's regime may have launched attacks with an industrial chemical earlier this month, despite an international agreement to eliminate Syria's chemical arsenal.

The latest evidence, cited by the United States and France, comes as Syria plans to hold a 3 June presidential poll, which the United Nations and the Arab League condemned as a blow to efforts to end the three-year-old civil war.

"We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical, probably chlorine, in Syria this month, in the opposition-dominated village of Kafr Zita," White House spokesperson Jay Carney said on Monday.

"We are examining allegations that the government was responsible."

The revelation follows a Sunday announcement by President Francois Hollande that France had "information" - but no proof - that Assad's regime was still using chemical weapons.

There have been conflicting accounts of the alleged chlorine attack in Kafr Zita, a rebel-held village in central Hama province, with the government and the opposition trading blame.

Activists have also reported other chlorine gas attacks, most recently in Idlib province, in the northwest, on Monday.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and other experts have spent months working to remove Syria's chemical stockpiles, under an agreement reached after gas attacks killed hundreds near Damascus last August.

Western governments blamed those attacks on the Assad regime and the United States threatened military action before backing down and reaching a deal with Russia to eliminate the chemical weapons.

The OPCW said last week that 65% of Syria's declared arsenal has been removed from the country.

Although chlorine is a toxic chemical, it is widely used for commercial and domestic purposes, so Syria was not required to declare its stockpiles to the OPCW, a chemical weapons expert told AFP.

"However, as a chemical weapon it is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention," which Syria joined last year, said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, CEO of SecureBio, a British chemical weapons consultancy.

"The delivery method that we've seen - the use of helicopters - I am certain the opposition don't have any helicopters."

He also said that although chlorine is a weak agent, chemical weapons are "very effective in this kind of warfare, in urban, built-up areas, as chemical weapons find their ways into the nooks and crannies".

Election amid war

Syria meanwhile announced on Monday that it will hold a 3 June presidential election, expected to return Assad to office.

Syria's first presidential election - after constitutional amendments scrapped a referendum system - is to go ahead despite violence which has killed more than 150 000 people since March 2011.

Candidates have until 1 May to register and Syrians living abroad will vote on 28 May.

The United Nations and the Arab League condemned the announcement, warning it would torpedo efforts to broker a negotiated peace.

"Such elections are incompatible with the letter and spirit of the Geneva communique," UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said, referring to a 2012 agreement on a transition to democracy.

Arab League chief Nabil al-Arabi agreed, adding: "From a practical point of view it is not possible to organise transparent, democratic and credible presidential election amid the harsh human tragedy."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was "appalled" by escalating violence in the main northern city of Aleppo, "where parties have in recent days carried out indiscriminate attacks against civilians".

In recent weeks, government aircraft have stepped up strikes against rebel-held areas in the east of the city, pressing a bombing campaign that has killed hundreds of people since December.

Rebel fighters have hit back with rocket attacks against government-held districts in the west of the city.

In the central city of Homs, once dubbed "the capital of the revolution" against Assad, the air force bombed a tiny rebel-held enclave in the city centre, activists said.

Read more on:    syria  |  syria conflict

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.