February 17, 2018

Trump administration says Syria making new chemical weapons despite 2013 deal

02 February 2018, 09:28 | Kara Nash

Courtesy MGN

Courtesy MGN

The bloodshed came a day after the latest suspected chlorine attack by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad on Ghouta, which has been besieged by government forces since 2013.

Raising the alarm about the chemical threat amid Syria's long civil war, USA officials said the Syrian government and the Islamic State group continue to use such weapons, although the militants' arms are said to be more rudimentary.

The Assad regime appears to have altered course only slightly since the United States fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syrian airfield in 2017 after a large chemical attack on rebel-held Khan Sheikhun.

The officials say it's "highly likely" that Syria kept a stockpile of weapons. Elliot Higgins, a British-based weapons analyst, said the serial numbers indicated they were from the same batch as those used in a January attack in the area.

Instead of dropping barrel bombs filled with chemical agents from helicopters, the officials said that mortars and other ground-based delivery systems were now being used.

"We are convinced that if the worldwide community does not take action now", the second official said, "we will see more chemical weapons use, not just by Syria but by non-state actors".

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The officials weren't authorized to speak on the record and briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime has been linked to multiple chemical weapons attacks, and the United States suspects Russian Federation is enabling it. The Islamic State group continues to use them, they said, although the militants' arms are said to be more rudimentary.

Aside from the threat to Syrian civilians, Washington is anxious that a wave of well-documented chemical attacks - systematically denied by Damascus and Moscow - is undermining long-standing taboos on their use.

The Assad regime on Thursday attacked a residential suburb of Damascus with chlorine gas, according to the White Helmets, a pro-opposition Syrian civil defense agency.

Barrel bombs used earlier in the war to disperse chemicals indiscriminately, for example, have been replaced by ground-launched munitions, officials said.

Nauert's comments follow a suspected chlorine gas attack in the rebel-held territory of Eastern Ghouta, on the outskirts of Damascus, on Thursday.

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