Use of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War has been confirmed by the United Nations. Deadly attacks during the war included the Ghouta attack in the suburbs of Damascus in August 2013 and the Khan al-Assal attack in the suburbs of Aleppo in March 2013. While no party took responsibility for the chemical attacks, the Syrian Ba'athist military was seen as main suspect, due to a large arsenal of such weapons. A U.N. fact-finding mission and a UNHRC Commission of Inquiry have simultaneously investigated the attacks. The U.N. mission found likely use of the nerve agent sarin in the case of Khan al-Assal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013), Ghouta (21 August 2013), Jobar (24 August 2013) and Ashrafiyat Sahnaya (25 August 2013). The UNHRC commission later confirmed the use of sarin in the Khan al-Asal, Saraqib and Ghouta attacks, but did not mention the Jobar and the Ashrafiyat Sahnaya attacks. The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile. Those attacks prompted the international community to pressure disarmament of the Syrian Armed Forces from chemical weapons, which was executed during 2014. Despite the disarmament process, dozens of incidents with suspected use of chemical weapons followed throughout Syria, mainly blamed on Syrian Ba'athist forces, as well as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and even on Syrian opposition forces.
In August 2016, a report by the United Nations and the OPCW explicitly blamed the Syrian military of Bashar al-Assad for dropping chemical weapons (chlorine bombs) on the towns of Talmenes in April 2014 and Sarmin in March 2015 and ISIS for using sulfur mustard on the town of Marea in August 2015. Several other attacks have been alleged, reported and/or investigated.
In December 2016, at least 53 people were killed in an apparent nerve gas attack in IS-held villages near Uqairabat, marking the first major nerve gas attack since the 2013 accord. In April 2017, the Khan Shaykhun chemical attack drew international condemnation and provoked the first U.S. military action against the Syrian government-controlled airbase at Shayrat.
The use of chemical weapons can be observed in the context of the Syrian Civil War. On 20 August 2012, President Barack Obama used the phrase "red line" in reference to the use of chemical weapons. On 6 September 2013 a bill was filed to authorize the use of military force against the Syrian military, mainly in response to the use of sarin in the Ghouta attack on 21 August 2013. On 9 September 2013, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stated that the air strikes could be averted if Syria turned over "every single bit" of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Hours after Kerry's statement, the Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov announced that Russia had suggested to Syria that it relinquish its chemical weapons. The Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem immediately welcomed the proposal.
In September 2013 the Syrian government entered into several international agreements for the destruction of its chemical weapons that stipulated an initial destruction deadline of 30 June 2014, a deadline apparently achieved in respect of declared chemical weapons. Prior to September 2013 the Syrian government had not publicly admitted to possessing chemical weapons, although Western intelligence services believed it to hold one of the world's largest stockpiles.
A Reuters report published on 17 August 2017 detailed the extent of Syria’s reluctance to abandon chemical weapons, citing information from investigators, inspectors and diplomatic sources. According a source cited in the report, "There are certainly some gaps, uncertainties, discrepancies" regarding Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. For example, the Syrian government inaccurately or even falsely declared the types, purposes and quantities of chemicals in its possession, and is suspected of continuing to hold at least 2000 chemical bomb shells that should have been converted to conventional weapons.
In December 2012, the chemical plant SYSACCO 29 kilometers (18 mi) east of Aleppo was taken by rebel fighters from the Al-Nusra Front. The factory produces chlorine among other chemicals. On 5 November 2014, the Syrian UN-ambassador Bashar al-Jaafari, said "terrorist organizations stole about 200 tons of [chlorine gas] from" the factory.
On 30 May 2013, Turkish newspapers reported that Turkish security forces had arrested Al-Nusra Front fighters in the southern provinces of Mersin and Adana near the Syrian border and confiscated 2 kg of sarin gas. The Turkish Ambassador to Moscow later said that tests showed the chemical seized was not sarin, but anti-freeze. In September six of those arrested in May were charged with attempting to acquire chemicals which could be used to produce sarin; the indictment said that it was "possible to produce sarin gas by combining the materials in proper conditions."
According to Syria, on 1 June 2013, the Syrian Army seized two cylinders holding the nerve agent sarin in an area controlled by opposition fighters. The Syrian government declared the two cylinders "as abandoned chemical weapons" and told the OPCW that "the items did not belong to" them. On 14 June 2014, the Joint OPCW-UN Mission confirmed that the cylinders contained sarin. On 7 July 2014, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon informed the U.N. Security Council about the findings.
On April 8, 2016, a spokesman for the Jaysh al-Islam rebel group admitted that “forbidden” weapons had been used against Kurdish militia and civilians in the Sheikh Maqsood neighborhood in Aleppo. He stated that “One of our commanders has unlawfully used a type of weapon that is not included in our list”. He did not specify what substances were used but, according to Red Crescent, the symptoms are consistent with the use of chlorine gas or other agents.
Reported chemical weapons attacks
The table below lists the reported attacks and the main points. See the main articles for details.[N 1]
|Date||Location||Governorate||Impact points||Civilian victims||Soldier/militias victims||CW-agent||Main article||Notes|
|Time of day||Coordinates||Controlled by||Deaths||Non-fatal||Deaths||Non-fatal||Unit|
|17 October 2012||Salqin||Idlib||Reported by the Government of France.(p4)[N 2]|
|23 December 2012||Al-Bayadah||Homs||Free Syrian Army||5||App. 100||Most likely Agent 15||Reported by the Government of France, UK and Qatar,(p3) and also Haaretz and Foreign Policy.[N 2]|
|13 March 2013||Darayya||Rif Dimashq||Reported by the Government of UK and Qatar.(p4)[N 2]|
|14 March 2013||Otaybah||Rif Dimashq||Reported by Le Monde.|
|19 March 2013||Khan al-Asal||Aleppo||Early morning||Syrian Army||19||107||1||17||Syrian Army||Sarin||Khan al-Assal chemical attack||Reported by the Governments of Syria, Russia, France, UK and US. Confirmed by the U.N.|
|19 March 2013||Otaybah||Rif Dimashq||Reported by the Governments of France and UK.(p6)[N 2]|
|24 March 2013||Adra||Rif Dimashq||Reported by the Government of UK.(p4)[N 2]|
|11 April 2013||Jobar||Damascus||Jobar chemical attacks||Reported by Le Monde.|
|12 April 2013||Jobar||Damascus||Jobar chemical attacks||Reported by Le Monde.[N 2]|
|13 April 2013||Sheikh Maqsood||Aleppo||Kurdish forces||3||more than a dozen||Reported by the Government of US.(p4)[N 2]|
|13 April 2013||Jobar||Damascus||Jobar chemical attacks||Reported by the Government of France.(p5)[N 2]|
|14 April 2013||Jobar||Damascus||Jobar chemical attacks||Reported by the Government of France.(p5)[N 2]|
|25 April 2013||Darayya||Rif Dimashq||Reported by the Government of UK.(p4)[N 2]|
|29 April 2013||Saraqib||Idlib||A:
|Free Syrian Army||1||10||2||Free Syrian Army||Sarin/Tear gas||Saraqib chemical attack||Reported by the Governments of UK and France.(p4) Allegedly some of the hand grenade–type munitions contained tear gas, whereas other grenades were filled with sarin. Ref. U.N. A French report of 2017 said hexamine was present in the Sarin used in Saraqib, linking it to Syrian regime later attacks in Ghouta and Khan Shakoun. The sarin present in the munitions used on 4April wasproduced using the same manufacturing process as that used during the sarin attack perpetrated by the Syrian regime in Saraqib. Moreover, the presence of hexamine indicates that this manufacturing process is that developed by the Scientific Studies and Research Centre for the Syrian regime.|
|14 May 2013||Qasr Abu Samrah||Hama||Reported by the Governments of US.(p5)[N 2]|
|23 May 2013||Adra||Rif Dimashq||Reported by the Governments of US.(p5)[N 2]|
|5 August 2013||Adra||Rif Dimashq||Ref. Human Rights Watch.|
|21 August 2013||Zamalka/Ein Tarma||Rif Dimashq||Between 02:00 and 03:00||Ein Tarma:
|734||Sarin||Ghouta chemical attack||Reported by multiple U.N. Member States.|
|21 August 2013||Muadamiyat al-Sham||Rif Dimashq||App. 05:00||Four 140mm rockets impacted next to the Rawda Mosque (). Three 140mm rockets impacted app. 500 meters to the east of the Rawda Mosque ( ).||103||Sarin||Ghouta chemical attack||Reported by multiple U.N. Member States.(p5)|
|22 August 2013||Al-Bahariyah||Rif Dimashq||App. 17:00||Syrian Army||16||Syrian Army||Reported by the Government of Syria.(p5) The U.N. mission investigated the attack, but did not find reliable information to support the allegation that a CW-agent were used.|
|24 August 2013||Jobar||Damascus||App. 11:00||Syrian Army||24||Syrian Army||Sarin||Jobar sarin attack||Ref. U.N.|
|25 August 2013||Ashrafiyat Sahnaya||Rif Dimashq||App. 20:00||Syrian Army||5||Syrian Army||Sarin||Ashrafiyat Sahnaya chemical attack||Ref. U.N.|
|10 April 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||Midnight, night to 11 April||Syrian opposition||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|11 April 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||18:00 – 19:00 hrs||A:
|Syrian opposition||2||107 affected, 5 seriously (12 patients)||Chlorine||2014 Kafr Zita chemical attack||Ref.OPCW, UNHRC, HRW, SOHR, VDC and SANA.|
|11 April 2014||Harasta||Rif Dimashq||Ref.|
|12 April 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||21:00 – 22:00||Syrian opposition||5 patients||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW and UNHRC.|
|12 April 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||22:45||Residential house, 100 m from Western school||Syrian opposition||–||25||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW and UNHRC.|
|13 April 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||App. 22:30||Syrian opposition||–||112 affected||Chlorine||Ref. Human Rights Watch|
|14 April 2014||Halfaya||Hama||23:00||4 patients||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|16 April 2014||Harasta||Rif Dimashq||Ref. The Times of Israel.|
|16 April 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||22:00||Al-Zowar region||Syrian opposition||4 patients||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW and UNHRC.|
|18 April 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||App. 22:00||Residential house, 150 m from medical unit||Syrian opposition||4||70||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW, UNHRC and HRW.|
|18 April 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||22:30||Syrian opposition||App. 100 affected (35 patients)||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW, UNHRC and HRW.|
|21 April 2014||Talmenes||Idlib||Around 10:30 to 10:45.||Two “barrel bombs” struck two houses 100 m from each other, in the neighbourhood around the big mosque ().||Syrian opposition||3||App. 133 (4 severely)||Chlorine||Talmenes chemical attack||Ref. OPCW, UNHRC and Human Rights Watch. According OPCW investigation the attack was conducted by Syrian Armed Forces helicopter.|
|22 April 2014||Darayya||Rif Dimashq||Ref. The Daily Star.|
|29 April 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||Night to 30 April||Residential house, 20 m from northern school||Syrian opposition||–||35||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW and UNHRC.|
|19 May 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||20:00||Syrian opposition||1||130 affected (2 patients)||Chlorine||Ref. Al Arabiya.|
|21 May 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||Chlorine||Ref. International Business Times.|
|21 May 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||20:00||Syrian opposition||4 patients||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW|
|22 May 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||10:00–11:00||Residential house||Syrian opposition||4||12||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|22 May 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||20:00||Syrian opposition||dozens (38 patients)||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW and CNN.|
|25 May 2014||Al-Tamanah||Idlib||Night to 26 May||Residential house, 50 m from main road||Syrian opposition||–||–||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|29 May 2014||Al-Lataminah||Hama||Night||17 patients||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|12 July 2014||Avdiko||Aleppo||Kurdish forces||3||Kurdish forces||Most likely Mustard gas||Ref. The Huffington Post and the MERIA Journal.|
|27 July 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||19:00||Syrian opposition||–||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|21 August 2014||Jobar||Damascus||6||Ref. ARA News.|
|28 August 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||21:30 – 22:00||Syrian opposition||–||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW and Channel News Asia.|
|30 August 2014||Kafr Zita||Hama||Syrian opposition||Chlorine||Ref. OPCW.|
|15 February 2015||Darayya||Rif Dimashq||Around noon||
50 to 100 m northwest of the Shrine of Sukayna
|Syrian Army||4||Syrian Army||Possibly sarin||Five to eight government soldiers were allegedly exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance. Ref.|
|21 February 2015||Hayan||Aleppo||Syrian opposition||Noxious gas||Ref. civil defence team.|
|9 March 2015||Mzeireb||Daraa||Syrian opposition||Chlorine||Ref. anti-regime activists.|
|16 March 2015||Qmenas||Idlib||Around 20:30 – 20:45||Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa||–||70 affected, 1 seriously||Most likely Chlorine||20 of the victims were from the western neighborhood of Sarmin. The wind allegedly carried the gas from Qmenas to Sarmin. Ref. MESOP.|
|16 March 2015||Sarmin||Idlib||Around 22:30 – 22:45||Two barrel bombs were allegedly dropped by a helicopter into the southeastern neighborhood of Sarmin (Kournesh).||Ahrar al-Sham and Jund al-Aqsa||6||30 affected, ranged between moderate and severe.||Most likely Chlorine||Sarmin chemical attack||Ref. LCC and SOHR. According OPCW investigation the attack was conducted by Syrian Armed Forces helicopter.|
|23 March 2015||Binnish||Idlib||About 19:30||Two barrel bombs filled with chlorine gas were dropped on Binnish.||Syrian opposition||–||At least 30 affected||Chlorine||Ref. The Times.|
|24 March 2015||Qmenas||Idlib||Chlorine||Ref. activists.|
|24 March 2015||Binnish||Idlib||Early evening||–||30 wounded||Chlorine||Ref. activists.|
|28 June 2015||Tell Brak||Al-Hasakah||17 projectiles impacted south of the village.||Kurdish forces||12||Kurdish forces||Mustard gas||Ref. CAR.|
|28 June 2015||Al-Hasakah||Al-Hasakah||7 projectiles impacted in the al-Salehiyah neighborhood.||Kurdish forces||Kurdish forces||Mustard gas||Ref. CAR.|
|21 August 2015||Mare'||Aleppo||About 19:30||Islamic Front||1 (a baby)||Around 30||Mustard gas||At least 50 mortar and artillery shells were fired at residential areas. At least half of them contained poisonous gas. Ref. According OPCW investigation the attack was conducted by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.|
|7 April 2016||Sheikh Maqsood||Aleppo||People's Protection Units||23||100+||Unknown||A district of Aleppo in Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters have been the target of a chemical attack by Islamic terrorists. Videos show a yellow gas rises above the Sheikh Maksoud neighborhood.|
|1 August 2016||Saraqib||Idlib||app. 11:00||Syrian opposition||?||28 injured||None||None||-||cholorine||Reported by Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic|
|15 June 2016||Eastern Ghouta||Damascus||Syrian Army||None||Several||Syrian Army||Unknown||Reported by Syrian Army.|
|25 August 2016||Dandaniya||Aleppo||Around 17:00||Syrian Democratic Forces||Dozens||Unknown||Reported by local sources.|
|8 October 2016||Sheikh Maqsood||Aleppo||Early morning||People's Protection Units||3||4+||Unknown||Unknown||People's Protection Units||Noxious gas||Local sources reported an attack by elephant rockets loaded with chemical substances.|
|25 November 2016||Sheikh Maqsood||Aleppo||16:35||People's Protection Units||3 patients||Unknown||Unknown||People's Protection Units||Unknown||The Kurdish Red Crescent reported taking 3 patients with chemical wounds after the area was hit by shells suspected to be loaded with poisonous chemicals.|
|8 January 2017||Wadi Barada||Damascus||?||Syrian opposition||?||at least 6 injured||?||?||-||cholorine||Reported by Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic]]|
|25 March 2017||Al-Lataminah||Chlorine |
|30 March 2017||Al-Lataminah||Hama||70+||Syrian warplanes dropping Sarin ||Union of Medical Care and Relief Organizations report|
|3 April 2017||Hbit||Idlib||"evening hours"||2 children||App. 20 affected.||Chlorine||According to local activists.|
|4 April 2017||Khan Shaykhun||Idlib||06:30||58–100+||300–400+||Sarin||2017 Khan Shaykhun chemical attack|
The UN mission to investigate alleged use of chemical weapons
The United Nations Mission to Investigate Allegations of the Use of Chemical Weapons in the Syrian Arab Republic was a fact-finding mission to investigate possible use of chemical weapons in Syria. On 16 September 2013 the mission published a report with focus on the Ghouta attacks. On 12 December 2013, the UN mission delivered its final report.
The UNHRC commission of inquiry
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic was set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 22 March 2011 to investigate human rights violations during the Syrian civil war. In its report dated 12 February 2014 they confirmed the use of sarin in the case of Khan Al-Assal (19 March 2013), Saraqib (29 April 2013) and Al-Ghouta (21 August 2013). The UNHRC commission also found that the sarin used in the Khan al-Asal attack bore "the same unique hallmarks" as the sarin used in the Ghouta attack and indicated that the perpetrators likely had access to chemicals from the Syrian Army's stockpile. In none of the incidents, however, was the commission’s "evidentiary threshold" met in regards to identifying the perpetrators of the chemical attacks.
In its report dated 13 August 2014 they accused Government forces of using chlorine gas in 8 incidents in Idlib and Hama governorates in April 2014.
The Russian Khan al-Asal investigation
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said that its Syrian ally had asked Russian experts to look into the Khan al-Assal attack. A Russian team investigated the Khan al-Asal incident on 19 March 2013. The Russian UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin delivered a report with analysis of the samples taken at the site to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on 9 July 2013. Churkin said the chemical agent was carried by a "Bashair-3 unguided projectile", which was produced by the Basha'ir al-Nasr Brigade, a rebel group affiliated with the Free Syrian Army.
The OPCW Fact-Finding Mission in Syria
On 29 April 2014, the Director General Ahmet Üzümcü of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) announced the creation of an OPCW mission to establish the facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine gas for hostile purposes in Syria. The Syrian Government has agreed to the mission.
On 27 May 2014, members of the mission were ambushed and briefly held by gunmen in rebel-held territory as it headed toward Kafr Zita to investigate the alleged chlorine gas attacks. According to the Associated Press, the OPCW said that the captive members of the mission were later "released after the intervention by Syria's main opposition group." The opposition Hama Media Centre said the attack on the convoy was carried out by President Bashar Assad's forces.
In its third report dated 18 December 2014, the mission concluded that chlorine was used in the villages of Talmenes, Al-Tamanah and Kafr Zita, but did not assign blame.
The UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism
On 7 August 2015, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 2235 (2015) to establish a joint investigation mechanism (JIM) to identify the perpetrators responsible for the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The resolution was drafted by the United States, and adopted by all 15 members of the Security Council. The JIM issued its first report on 12 February 2016. The second was released on 10 June 2016, while the third report was issued on 30 August 2016.
In January 2017, they declared that they had composed a list of those responsible for using chemical weapons in the war. The list, which has not been made public, is divided into three sections. The first, is titled "Inner-Circle President" and has six people, including Assad, his brother, the defense minister and the head of military intelligence. The second section names the air force chief and its four commanders, including the heads of the 22nd Air Force Division and the 63rd Helicopter Brigade. The last section titled "Other relevant Senior Mil Personnel" includes two colonels and major-generals. This they said indicates that the decision to use gas came from the very top.
On 26 October 2017, the JIM delivered the report (37 pages) to the UN.
In February 2012 a defector, a lieutenant who worked in the chemical weapons department, claimed that "BZ-CS, Chlorine Benzilate, which damages people’s nerves and makes them fade away, is being used in Bab Amr." He said that some Syrian soldiers had been supplied with gas masks for protection.
In 2015 the OPCW-UN Joint Mission in Syria disclosed previously undeclared traces of sarin and VX precursor compounds in a military research site where use of those compounds had not been previously declared.
In September 2015 a US official stated that ISIS was manufacturing and using mustard agent in Syria and Iraq, and had an active chemical weapons research team. In February 2016, the CIA Director John O. Brennan said on 60 Minutes that there were "a number of instances where ISIL has used chemical munitions on the battlefield".
On the 4th of April, 2017, the Syrian government bombed a city in the far-north of the rebel-held Syrian territory with what both witnesses and inspectors claim to have been aerosol dispersion munitions containing some form of an organophosphate nerve agent. It is considered the worst chemical attack in the country since 2015 and resulted in President Trump implementing a strike against the air-base from which the bombers are believed to have launched. Syrian officials thoroughly denied the accusations and blamed rebel forces for the chemical release, claiming that one of the Syrian ballistic munitions unintentionally struck a factory which the regimes alleges was being used by rebel forces to manufacture chemical weapons which they intended to transport to Iran. In an emergency meeting of the UN, Russia implemented its veto power to prevent unified international retaliation against the regime in response to the re-escalation of the conflict and violating the CWC for the first time since the Syrian government formalized its accession to the treaty in 2015.
On the 27th of June, 2017, US officials stated that the Syrian government was preparing at a Syrian base for what seemed another chemical attack. The Trump administration warned that if another attack occurred, President Assad would pay a heavy price. This threat comes as the intelligence community states that the activity is similar to the preparations leading to the attack in Khan Sheikhoun.
- List of Syrian Civil War barrel bomb attacks
- List of massacres during the Syrian Civil War
- Use of chemical weapons in the Iraqi Civil War
- All times given are given in Eastern European Time (EET), or UTC+02:00 unless otherwise stated.
- In their final report, the U.N. mission stated: "The United Nations Mission did not receive sufficient or credible information in respect of the alleged incidents in Salquin on 17 October 2012, Homs on 23 December 2012, Darayya on 13 March and 25 April 2013, Otaybah on 19 March 2013, Adra on 24 March and 23 May 2013, Jobar between 11 and 14 April 2013, and Qasr Abu Samrah on 14 May 2013."(p10)
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