The Syrian city of Aleppo has been hit by a suspected chlorine attack, which would amount to a war crime if confirmed, and constitutes an alarming sign that Syrian government forces are intensifying their use of chemical weapons against civilians, Amnesty International said Thursday.
The attack on a residential neighborhood in a part of Aleppo controlled by armed groups is the third reported use of chemical weapons in northern Syria in just two weeks and has reportedly killed at least four people. Amnesty International has confirmed at least 60 others, mostly children, sought medical care after showing symptoms characteristic of a chlorine attack.
“This attack in Aleppo is yet another flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and signals a distressing pattern in the use of chemical weapons by regime forces,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program.
The latest attack comes as Russia announced a three-hour daily ceasefire on the city, as humanitarian aid is desperately needed in some areas.
“We call for the immediate cessation of air raids on civilian targets in Aleppo. It is imperative that chemical attacks and other war crimes end now. We also call for the unrestricted free flow of aid to the tens of thousands of people trapped in the city’s east,” said Mughrabi.
“Three hours a day to deliver aid is grossly inadequate given the magnitude of the humanitarian crisis in eastern Aleppo and the perilous and time-consuming nature of such deliveries.”
Amnesty International spoke to a doctor in Aleppo who said that of the 60 injured in the latest attack, 40 were children.
“They were all suffering from the same symptoms, mainly coughing and shortness of breath. I could easily smell chlorine on people’s clothes,” he said.
“We will soon run out of medical supplies if the frequency of attacks continues like this.”
In July, Syrian armed forces backed by Russian air power encircled eastern Aleppo, which has been held by armed groups since 2012. The government siege essentially cut some 250,000 people off from basic food, medicine and fuel supplies that keep ambulances and hospital generators running.
Russia has carried out airstrikes over Syria since September last year in support of the government forces.
Yesterday’s attack occurred in the al-Zibdiye neighborhood of Aleppo one kilometer away from the frontline.
Armed groups this week broke the Syrian government forces’ siege but this was followed with intensified bombing of the city by government and Russian forces.
Two barrel bombs allegedly containing chlorine gas were dropped on August 1 in two residential neighborhoods in the city of Saraqeb in Idleb province, reportedly injuring at least 28 civilians.
This attack comes almost exactly a year after the UN Security Council passed a resolution to establish a mechanism to investigate chemical attacks in Syria and identify their perpetrators. If it is confirmed that bombs dropped yesterday contained chlorine it will underline the extent to which government forces – as well as other parties to the conflict – are continuing to flagrantly violate international humanitarian law with impunity.
Media reports on August 2 said another chemical attack had been launched in Aleppo. The Chemical Weapons Convention prohibits the development, production, stockpiling, transfer and use of chemical weapons and requires States Parties to destroy chemical weapon stockpiles. The use of prohibited weapons such as chemical weapons is a war crime under customary international law.
Syrian government forces are suspected of carrying out dozens of horrific attacks with chlorine and other chemical weapons on opposition-held areas since 2012, killing hundreds and inflicting terrible injuries on others. All such attacks are prohibited by international humanitarian law.
In September 2013, after hundreds of people died in alleged sarin gas attacks on Ghouta, outside Damascus, Syria acceded to the Chemical Weapons Convention and President al-Assad pledged to destroy the country’s stockpile of prohibited chemical agents.
However, a year later, in September 2014, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) fact-finding mission found “compelling confirmation” that a toxic chemical was used “systematically and repeatedly” as a weapon in villages in northern Syria.