The international monitoring group involved in the removal of Syria's chemical arsenal said Tuesday that a special mission would investigate recent claims that industrial-strength chlorine was used in attacks in the Syrian conflict.
Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has agreed to the probe, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said.
The United States and other powers have complained about Syria's delays in implementing an agreement to rid the country of chemical weapons by June 30. Syria missed a self-imposed deadline Sunday; more than 90 percent of the country's chemical stockpiles has been removed or destroyed, according to U.S. and U.N. officials.
The chemical removal deal allowed President Barack Obama to hold off on military strikes that he'd planned as punishment for a deadly gas attack outside of Damascus.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons released a statement announcing the formation of a mission that would depart soon for Syria, where investigators would look into claims that the Syrian regime was releasing chlorine via the "barrel bombs" that have become a hallmark of the war.
Amateur videos released by Syrian activists purport to show victims of such attacks convulsing and suffering shortness of breath.
The Christian Science Monitor published a report this week noting that while chlorine isn't banned outright - like, say, sarin nerve gas - it's still prohibited under a catch-all clause of the Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria signed on to last year. More from the report:
Chlorine gas reacts with moisture in the throat and lungs and turns into hydrochloric acid. In large concentrations it can be lethal. Chlorine gas bombs were used by insurgents in Iraq between 2006 and 2007, although with limited effect, and both the Germans and the British used it during World War I. ... “Chlorine is very common chemical,” says John Hart, the head of the Chemical and Biological Security Project at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. “It has no real value in state-to-state conflict in cases where the forces have [chemical weapons] protective equipment and training.”
Here's the full OPCW announcement:
At a meeting of the OPCW Executive Council held today, the Director-General announced the creation of an OPCW mission to establish facts surrounding allegations of use of chlorine in Syria. The Syrian government, which has agreed to accept this mission, has undertaken to provide security in areas under its control. The mission will carry out its work in the most challenging circumstances.
Delegations speaking at today’s Executive Council meeting expressed their full support for this mission. The UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon has also expressed his support and assured the assistance of the United Nations in meeting the significant security and logistical demands of this mission.
The team is expected to depart for Syria soon.