Syria update: Watchdog group confirms recent use of sarin
Test results come from autopsies performed by Hague-based OPCW
By TATIANA PROPHET
The Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons, an independent body based in The Hague, Netherlands, has released what it calls incontrovertible evidence that sarin, or a sarin-like substance, was used on April 4 in a neighborhood in the Idlib province, a rebel-held area.
According to its web site, the OPCW is "the implementing body of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which entered into force in 1997. The OPCW works closely with the United Nations. As of today OPCW has 192 Member States, who are working together to achieve a world free of chemical weapons."
"The bio-medical samples collected from three victims during their autopsy were analysed at two OPCW designated laboratories," according to a press release issued by the organization. "The results of the analysis indicate that the victims were exposed to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance. Bio-medical samples from seven individuals undergoing treatment at hospitals were also analysed in two other OPCW designated laboratories. Similarly, the results of these analyses indicate exposure to Sarin or a Sarin-like substance."
"While further details of the laboratory analyses will follow, the analytical results already obtained are incontrovertible,” said Director-General Ahmet Üzümcü, as quoted in the statement.
The OPCW has received samples, but has so far not accessed the site of the attack.
"In the meantime, the Fact-Finding Mission is continuing with interviews, evidence management and sample acquisition," said the statement. "The Director-General reported that an FFM team is ready to deploy to Khan Sheikhun should the security situation permit."
Russia and Syria have been calling for an impartial investigation. The previous ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, expressed confidence in the OPCW until their findings were used by the United Nations to rule against Syria in three cases of chlorine attacks in Syria, after which he said it would be hasty to accept their rulings. Since then, Russia has been casting doubt on the OPCW's methods and findings.
Meanwhile, the United States Defense Department has reported that, shortly after the April 6 attack by U.S. Tomahawk missiles, Syria moved "most of its combat planes" to the Russian base of Khmeimim near the Bashar Al-Assad International Airport.
On April 5, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Kim Won-Soo said the attack on Kahn Shaykuhn, "if confirmed," was the largest chemical attack since 2013.
Preliminary confirmation came Wednesday after the OPCW confirmed that sarin was indeed used. The independent body has not been ruling on who is at fault in the Syrian theater. Rather, the Joint Investigative Mechanism of the United Nations combs through OPCW evidence and rules on who is at fault, if possible. Unfortunately, the more time that passes after an attack, the more difficult it is to rule on who is at fault, experts say.