Sarin, chlorine likely used in Syria in March 2017 attacks, watchdog says

The global chemical weapons watchdog says the nerve agent sarin and toxic chemical chlorine were "very likely" used as weapons in two attacks in central Syria in late March 2017.

OPCW's findings based on testimony, sample analysis from central Syria

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which is also investigating a possible chemical attack in Douma, said sarin and chlorine were likely used in chemical attacks in central Syria in March 2017. (Ali Hashisho/Reuters)

The global chemical weapons watchdog says the nerve agent sarin and toxic chemical chlorine were "very likely" used as weapons in two attacks in central Syria in late March 2017.

The information is contained in the latest in a series of reports from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), released Wednesday, confirming the use of toxic agents in the country's civil war.

The OPCW said its fact-finding mission probing alleged attacks in Syria found that "sarin was very likely used as a chemical weapon" in the south of Latamneh in Hama province on March 24, and that chlorine was likely used a day later at and near Latamneh Hospital.

The organization's fact-finding team is not mandated to apportion blame for chemical attacks. A joint United Nations-OPCW team that was tasked with determining blame for such attacks no longer exists after Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, last year vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to extend its mandate.

Before it was disbanded UN-OPCW investigators said Syrian government forces have used both sarin and chlorine, while rebel forces used sulphur mustard gas once. 

The OPCW said the findings published Wednesday were based on witness testimony and analysis of samples. Syria denies using chemical weapons.

The attack occurred as government forces, backed by planes and helicopters, were battling rebels in the area. 

Days after the Latamneh attacks, sarin was used in a deadly attack at nearby Khan Sheikhoun, killing scores of people. At the time, the UN-OPCW investigative team blamed that attack on Syrian government forces. Damascus denies responsibility.

Physicians for Human Rights reported the hospital attack last year, saying that the Latamneh surgical hospital — a facility built into a cave to protect it from airstrikes — was hit by multiple barrel bombs.

PHR said at the time that the attack only caused minor structural damage, but multiple sources inside the hospital testified that at least one of the bombs contained a chemical agent.

The hospital's co-ordinator told PHR that the attack and chemical exposure led to the death of one of the hospital's doctors, Dr. Ahmed Darwish, the group said.

Doctors Without Borders, also known as MSF, said the hospital in Latamneh was supported by the group. It said a bomb dropped by a helicopter hit the entrance of the building, and that information collected by the hospital's medical staff  suggested that chemical weapons were used.

The watchdog is also investigating a suspected chemical attack on April 7 this year in the Douma enclave near Damascus that prompted missile strikes by the United States, France and Britain. It is expected to publish the results of that inquiry this month. Syria denied responsibility for that attack. 

With files from Reuters