Experts from the world’s watchdog tasked with destroying chemical weapons are probing reports that toxic arms have been used 45 times in Syria since late last year, the body’s chief said Friday.
Ahmet Uzumcu, its director general, said there was “a huge list of allegations” of the use of toxic arms reported to the operations hub of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
In the “second part of 2016, 30 different incidents, and since the beginning of this year, 15 separate incidents, so 45,” he told a reporters, brandishing a list of several pages which he chose to keep confidential.
They include the April 4 sarin gas attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhun. “All these allegations are recorded by our experts, who follow this every day from our operations center,” Uzumcu said.
“The mission, if it goes ahead, will not be an easy one. The Syrian regime had enough time to erase whatever traces were left (of the chemical attack). It will have time to do that until the watchdog arrives in Syria,” Hamdan Al-Shehri, a political analyst and international relations expert, told Arab News on Friday.
“The regime has been condemned for using chemical weapons against civilians, and this was proven by the British and the French, who conducted tests on samples taken from the victims. The question is, will there be any accountability based on the results of the new mission,” Al-Shehri added.
The OPCW is currently trying to ensure it is safe enough to deploy its fact-finding team to the town for further analysis, after Uzumcu said last week that “incontrovertible” test results from OPCW-designated labs on samples taken from victims showed sarin gas or a similar substance had been used.
The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad has “already stated that it would support this mission, actually it has invited us to go via Damascus,” he said.
“The problem is that this area is controlled by different armed opposition groups, so we need to strike some deals with them to ensure a temporary cease-fire, which we understand the Syrian government is willing to do,” he added.
“If we can put all this together then we will deploy. The team is ready, and we have the volunteers.”
However, it is not yet mandated to also visit the Shayrat air base in the central Syrian province of Homs.
The base was the target of a US strike launched in the wake of the Khan Sheikhun attack, and Russia has called for the allegations that it was stocking chemical weapons to be investigated.
Uzumcu also confirmed that the OPCW, based in The Hague, believed Daesh terrorists had used “sulfur mustard” near Iraq’s second city of Mosul last week.
The Iraqi military said some security personnel were injured in the April 15 attack as part of the operation to recapture Mosul.