EU mulls further sanctions on Syrian regime
Labels of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are seen inside a damaged house in Douma in Damascus, Syria April 23, 2018. (REUTERS File Photo)
The European Union is ready to impose stricter sanctions on high-level Syrian regime officials and scientists who were involved in using chemical weapons against civilians, the EU’s foreign policy chief said on April 9.
A report from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Syrian air force pilots flying Sukhoi Su-22 planes and a helicopter had dropped bombs containing toxic chlorine and sarin nerve gas on the village of Latameneh in the Hama region in March 2017.
The OPCW's Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), whose formation was opposed by Moscow and Damascus, said more than 100 people had been affected by the attacks, carried out on March 24, 25 and 30, 2017.
It said the 50th Brigade of the 22nd Air Division of the Syrian Air Force had dropped M4000 bombs containing sarin on the town, and a cylinder containing chlorine on a hospital.
"Military operations of such a strategic nature as these three attacks only occur pursuant to orders from the highest levels of the Syrian Arab Armed Forces," the report added.
OPCW chief Fernando Arias said it was up to the watchdog's members, the U.N. Secretary General and the international community to take any action they deemed necessary.
Josep Borrell, the head of the EU foreign policy, welcomed the release of the document.
"The European Union strongly condemns the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian Arab Air Force as concluded by the report,” Borrell pointed out.
He reminded that those identified as perpetrators of these “horrible attacks” need to be held accountable since the use of chemical weapons is “a violation of international law and can amount to the most serious of international crimes - war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
Meanwhile, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the OPCW's findings confirmed Syria's continued use of chemical weapons "and utter disregard for human life".
"No amount of disinformation from Assad's enablers in Russia and Iran can hide the fact that the Syrian regime is responsible for numerous #chemicalweapons attacks," he tweeted.
Syria on April 9 dismissed the report that said Syrian jets had carried out a series of chemical attacks on an opposition-held town, under orders from the top military command.
Syria's foreign ministry said in a statement that the report was "deceptive and included fabricated conclusions, the purpose of which was to distort truths and accuse the Syrian government".
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his military backer Russia have both repeatedly denied using chemical weapons, and accuse insurgents of staging attacks to implicate Syrian forces.
Chemical attacks on the Syrian towns of Douma and Khan Sheikhoun led U.S. President Donald Trump to carry out missile strikes on Syrian regime targets in April 2018 with the backing of France and Britain.
In 2013, chemical attacks on the opposition-held Ghouta suburbs around Damascus killed hundreds of civilians, many of them women and children, the deadliest use of chemical weapons in decades. The government denied it was behind the attacks.