Syria civilians still under chemical attack

- Published: 11 September 2015
Syria civilians still under chemical attack

Five others died in the same attack on Sarmin, about 50 km (30 miles) southwest of Aleppo, in March this year - including three small children. None of them had a scar on their bodies.

For the children of Syria, it is not the high seas they must fear but death on dry land.

The footage was apparently taken in the aftermath of a chemical attack.

When it was shown to the UN Security Council it reportedly moved delegates to tears, and is just one of more than 60 incidents in which toxic agents are alleged to have been deployed.

Now, a leading chemical weapons expert has told the BBC there is "very strong and compelling evidence" that mustard gas has been used in a recent attack, blamed on Islamic State (IS) militants.

Last month the UN voted to set up an investigation to find out which individuals, groups or governments are involved in the use of chemicals as weapons in Syria.

The Syrian government has been repeatedly accused of perpetrating many of these attacks, something it vehemently denies.

But when Sarmin was attacked, witnesses say they heard a helicopter overhead and only government forces have helicopters in Syria.

Then people say they heard a roaring sound, like thunder but there was no explosion, just casualties.

Two years ago the UN voted unanimously in favour of the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. It was perhaps the only threat that civilians were supposed to be protected from.

But there have been growing allegations that chemicals, in particular chlorine gas, have been used, mostly against civilian populations in dozens of attacks.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) looked at three of these alleged attacks and reported to the UN they have "a high degree of confidence that chlorine has been used repeatedly and systematically as a weapon" in Syria.


Chlorine was first used as a weapon in the trenches of World War One. Denser than air, it was used to flush soldiers out of the trenches.

Many victims in Syria appear to exhibit symptoms consistent with such toxic agents but proving it is hard, not least because investigators cannot get the rapid access to sites that they would need to conduct verifiable tests.

The Syrian government has told us it has never used chemical weapons. It blames what it calls "terrorists" instead.

Rebel forces and more recently IS also stand charged. The militants have repeatedly attacked the town of Marea in northern Syria. But two recent strikes are feared to have involved chemicals.

I understand samples have been passed to the British government for testing.

This time the symptoms were different, with people exhibiting huge painful blisters and burns.