New chemical weapons team to launch first Syria probe
A new team established by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to attribute blame for the use of banned munitions will investigate nine alleged chemical attacks during Syria's civil war, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
The OPCW was created in 1997 as a technical body to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty and had previously only been able to report on whether chemical attacks had occurred, not who the perpetrators were.
Member states of the OPCW agreed last year to give the Hague-based body new powers to assign blame for attacks.
The new team will investigate a deadly assault on Douma last year, sources told Reuters, which witnesses said killed 43 people.
The OPCW said earlier this year that there were "reasonable grounds" to believe toxic chemicals containing "reactive chlorine" had been used in the attack.
A spokesman for Syria's foreign ministry had rejected the OPCW's findings in their entirety.
Syria has already blocked access to the chief of the so-called Identification and Investigation Team, while Moscow and Damascus have accused the Hague-based OPCW of becoming "politicised".
Last month the OPCW chief Fernando Arias said the new team had initiated its work to "identify the perpetrators of the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic".
Arias did not give any details of the team's initial activities or which incidents it would be investigating first. It is able to probe attacks as far back as 2013.
The OPCW has investigated multiple chemical attacks during the eight-year Syrian civil war, and has previously confirmed the use of "chlorine, sulphur mustard, and sarin as chemical weapons" in other incidents.
A report earlier this year by the Global Public Policy Institute concluded that around 98 percent of the hundreds of chemical attacks in Syria since the start of the 2011 war were carried out by Bashar al-Assad's regime.
Agencies contributed to this report.
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