Syrian rebels are once again charging that government forces have attacked civilians in rebel-held territory with chlorine gas – a substance not covered by last September’s international agreement, brokered by the U.S. and Russia, to remove chemical weapons from the war-torn nation.
According to the local council in Daria, near Damascus, the town was targeted Tuesday with small barrel bombs that appeared to contain chlorine gas. The council reported that ambulances were transporting the injured to field hospitals, and published a video on YouTube to back up its claim.
The council said that victims suffered suffocation and shortness of breath, but that so far the number of casualties is small, with no deaths.
Tuesday’s incident was the second alleged attack in 24 hours. On Monday, opposition groups charged that barrel bombs loaded with chlorine were dropped from helicopters on the town of Telminnes in the central province of Hama.
Earlier this month, there were alleged chlorine attacks on another rebel-held town, Kfar Zeita, and a village near the Turkish border. In each case, rebels provided journalists with videos of the alleged attack.
The use of chlorine appears to be coordinated, reports Reuters, which adds that rebel-produced videos of the Telminnes attack show that some unexploded cannisters carried the designation, "CL2," the symbol for chlorine gas. The cannisters also show the name of a Chinese manufacturer.
Chlorine has industrial uses but if used as a weapon is officially considered a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention, an international arms agreement. However, a U.S. official said that under the agreement reached last year by the U.S., Russia and the Assad regime, Syria is not required to turn over chlorine to the U.N.’s Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for neutralization.
"Chlorine can be considered a chemical weapon," said a U.S. counter-proliferation official, "but it is not covered by the tripartite agreement."
The official added that not all reports of chlorine use have been verified, and said without access to the sites, confirmation is difficult.
"Any use of any toxic material with the intent to injure or kill is something we'd be concerned about," said State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki Tuesday. She said the international community is investigating what happened and the U.S. is in touch with the OPCW.
Ammar Cheikhomar contributed to this report.