The Syrian government committed war crimes by using chlorine in three attacks against civilians in 2018, UN investigators said in a report released Wednesday.
The forces of President Bashar Assad used the banned chemical weapons in attacks on Douma, near Damascus, on January 22 and February 1, as well as in the northern Idlib province on February 4, the report quoted by Reuters said.
An unspecified number of civilians were injured in the three attacks, including women and children.
“To recapture eastern Ghouta in April, government forces launched numerous indiscriminate attacks in densely populated civilian areas, which included the use of chemical weapons,” it said.
“The Commission concludes that, on these two occasions, government forces and or affiliated militias committed the war crimes of using prohibited weapons and launching indiscriminate attacks in civilian-populated areas in eastern Ghouta.”
It added that “the munitions documented were built around industrially-produced Iranian artillery rockets known to have been supplied to forces commanded by the government.”
In Idlib “Government helicopters dropped at least two barrels carrying chlorine payloads in the Taleel area of Saraqeb.”
The report was based on hundreds of interviews with figures on the ground. It brings the number of chemical attacks confirmed to have been committed by Assad’s troops since 2013 to 33. Six more attacks have not been definitively linked to the regime.
On Tuesday US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Assad has been well warned against any chemical weapons use in an anticipated assault on Idlib province.
The regime has twice been targeted by US air and missile strikes after previous alleged chemical attacks.
US officials have in recent days said additional action would follow if Assad were to use the banned weapons in rebel-held Idlib.
“In Idlib, we’re watching very closely what the Assad regime, aided and abetted by the Iranians and the Russians are up to,” Mattis told Pentagon reporters.
Pointing to a US missile strike on a Syrian air base in April 2017 after Assad’s jets launched an alleged chemical attack in Idlib, Mattis noted that the Syrian leader had suffered massive losses to his air force.
“The first time around, he lost 17 percent of his pointy-nosed air force airplanes,” Mattis said, referring to the unusual nose cones on Russian-built jets. “He’s been warned, and so we’ll see if he’s wised up.”
A second strike, in April this year, saw British and French militaries assist the US-led mission.
Idlib province and adjacent rural areas form the largest piece of territory still held by Syria’s beleaguered rebels, worn down by a succession of government victories in recent months.
Assad has now set his sights on Idlib, and his forces have stepped up bombardment of the densely populated province since the beginning of the month.