New York Times focuses on continued use of chemical weapons in Syria

by Tom Gallagher

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Last week's New York Times had a story about the continued use of chemical weapons in Syria; namely, chlorine gas, which aid workers are convinced is being deployed by President Bashar al-Assad's government forces. Here's an excerpt from the story:

Two years after President Bashar al-Assad agreed to dismantle Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, there is mounting evidence that his government is flouting international law to drop jerry-built chlorine bombs on insurgent-held areas. Lately, the pace of the bombardments in contested areas like Idlib Province has picked up, rescue workers say, as government forces have faced new threats from insurgents. The Assad government has so far evaded more formal scrutiny because of political, legal and technical obstacles to assigning blame for the attacks -- a situation that feels surreal to many Syrians under the bombs, who say it is patently clear the government drops them. ...

In contrast to stronger toxins like nerve agents and mustard gas, chlorine is lethal only in highly concentrated doses and where medical treatment is not immediately available, making it more an instrument of terror than of mass slaughter. It is typically dropped in barrel bombs containing canisters that explode on impact, distributing clouds of gas over civilian populations, and is distinguishable by its characteristic odor.

So it falls under a kind of loophole. With many civilian uses, like purifying water or disinfecting hospitals, it is not banned under international law and thus was not on the list of chemicals that Mr. Assad promised to destroy -- though using chlorine as a weapon is forbidden.

The Security Council did condemn the use of chlorine as a weapon in Syria in February. But with Russia, the Syrian government's most powerful ally, wielding a veto, there was no Council agreement to assign blame. ...

Frustrated with the Security Council's impasse over the issue, rescue workers and doctors are now working to bring evidence of chlorine gas attacks directly to the French, British and American governments for testing. The aim is to give states a solid basis for action against the attacks, in the Security Council or through quieter diplomatic pressure, said James Le Mesurier, the British director of a nonprofit group, Mayday Rescue, that trains and equips the White Helmets, Syrian volunteers supported by the British, Danish and Dutch governments.

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