Syria and chemical weapons-5

This is a compilation of blog posts about chemical weapons in Syria. The posts are in chronological order.

Method in Assad's madness?  
21 August 2013

​Assad’s game-changer 
22 August 2013 

Chemical weapons in Syria require action 
25 August 2013

US rallies support for Syria air strikes 
26 August 2013

It's time to cast off the 'Iraq war' mindset 
27 August 2013

Syria: some unanswered questions 
28 August 2013

Syria – from horror to farce
29 August 2013

Syria: another green light for Assad 
30 August 2013

Syria: the view from US intelligence 
31 August 2013

Syria: a question of international law 
31 August 2013

Syria – a chilling hypothesis 
1 September 2013

Syria – the waiting game 
1 September 2013

Walking a fine line on Syria 
4 September 2013

Has Putin changed his tune on Syria? 
5 September 2013

Chemical weapons: a diplomatic way out? 
6 September 2013

Syria airstrikes: is there another way? 
7 September 2013

Put Russia to the test 
8 September 2013

How to get Syria to give up chemical weapons 
9 September 2013

Why a UN resolution on Syria is needed 
11 September 2013

Syrian chemical weapons: reasons for hope 
15 September 2013

More clues from the weapons inspectors? 
15 September 2013

Russia and the weapons inspectors
17 September 2013

Chemical attacks and a mystery reporter 
18 September 2013

Syria 'rebel chemicals' story gets weirder 
21 September 2013

Syria 'rebel chemicals' mystery deepens 
21 September 2013

Yahya Ababneh exposed 
22 September 2013

Manufacturing credibility 
25 September 2013

Lavrov cites mystery reporter Ababneh 
26 September 2013

Ababneh trail leads to Iran 
2 October 2013

Syria and its chemical weapons 
12 October 2013

Investigating chemical weapons in Syria 
10 December 2013

Syria chemical attacks: a question of sources 
11 December 2013

Sarin in Syria 
14 December 2013

Questions for the Syria Sarin sceptics 
16 December 2013

Syria sarin attacks 
5 March 2014

Why chemical weapons in Syria must not be ignored 
7 April 2017

Former British ambassador in Syria has links to Assad family 
23 April 2017

​Syria's hexamine: a smoking gun 
27 April 2017

Syria, Seymour Hersh and the Sarin denialists 
1 July 2017

Syria and Sarin: who was Hersh's anonymous source?
4 July 2017

Syria agrees that Sarin was used in Khan Sheikhoun
5 July 2017

Chemical weapons in Syria: the search for culprits begins
7 July 2017

Did Syrian rebels acquire sarin? If so, how?
17 July 2017

Syria accuses US and UK of supplying chemical weapons to rebels
17 August 2017

Chemical weapons in Syria: what is the Assad regime hiding?
6 September 2017

Seymour Hersh wins award for discredited article about Syria
7 September 2017

Syria and sarin: Seymour Hersh pulls out of award ceremony
21 September 2017

Seymour Hersh accepts 'truth-telling' award, but not for articles on Syria
25 September 2017

Exonerating Assad: how reports twisted Mattis's comments on sarin in Syria
9 February 2018

Sarin in Syria: Newsweek is at it again
19 February 2018

The Syrian conflict's anti-propaganda propagandists
24 February 2018

Manufacturing doubt over chemical weapons in Syria
27 February 2018

Russia-friendly 'Syria propaganda' group names more supporters
6 March 2018

From Syria to Salisbury: Russia's propaganda game
15 March 2018

'Propaganda' professors switch focus from Syria to Britain and Russia
18 March 2018

9/11 truther joins Syria 'propaganda research' group
19 March 2018

Chemical weapons in Syria: the problem is obvious, the solution is not
12 April 2018

Can the international ban on chemical weapons survive the Syrian war?
25 June 2018

Seymour Hersh on Syria: "There's no such thing as a chlorine bomb"
27 June 2018

Ban on chemical weapons is reinforced by today's crucial vote
27 June 2018

OPCW finds possible use of chlorine, no evidence of sarin, in Douma
7 July 2018

OPCW finds possible use of chlorine, no evidence of sarin, in Douma

Blog post, 7 July 2018: The OPCW has now issued an interim report on the alleged chemical attack in Douma, Syria, last April. Although the investigation is not yet complete, laboratory tests so far have found possible evidence of chlorine use but no evidence of sarin or a similar nerve agent. The OPCW also visited two sites which the Syrian authorities suspected of being used by rebels to produce chemical weapons and found "no indication" that the claim was true.

The report says investigators obtained 129 samples for analysis but so far only 29 of them have been tested. These were the samples considered to be "of the greatest probative value or of the highest susceptibility to degradation". (Chemical degradation was a concern because investigators were unable to gain access to the relevant areas until two weeks after the alleged attack.) 

Dozens of people were reportedly killed in the Douma attack on April 7, and the US, Britain and France responded with airstrikes. The attack on Douma was widely claimed to have been carried out by Syrian forces using chlorine gas, though there were also claims that the nerve agent sarin had been used too. Chlorine is not officially designated as a chemical weapon – it is a common substance with multiple civilian uses – but the Chemical Weapons Convention nevertheless prohibits its use in warfare. 

Three days after the alleged attack Russia said it had sent a "chemical corps commission" to investigate in Douma and had "found no traces of chemical poisoning with chlorine or sarin". Russia has also claimed that videos apparently showing casualties were faked.

Previous OPCW reports have confirmed the use of sarin on several occasions in Syria, most notably in Ghouta in 2013 and Khan Sheikhoun last year.  Chlorine attacks have been much more common and, according to the OPCW, chlorine has been used “systematically and repeatedly” during the conflict.

Of the 129 samples from Douma, 86 were environmental and 43 were biomedical. All but five of the environmental samples were collected by OPCW investigators, with a full chain of custody:

"Samples were collected, sealed, and documented in photos and video recordings in the presence of Syrian Arab Republic representatives, and unpacked at the OPCW Laboratory for splitting and redistribution to the OPCW designated laboratories in the presence of the Permanent Representative of the Syrian Arab Republic to the OPCW."

The biomedical samples from people allegedly exposed were received or collected outside Syria, and the report says OPCW investigators "directly oversaw the drawing of blood samples". The report lists 12 samples as having been collected by investigators (i.e. directly), with the other 31 "handed over" by third parties. Biomedical samples included blood, plasma, hair and DNA. So far, nine plasma samples have been tested (four of them collected by the OPCW itself) and the report says "no relevant chemicals" were found.

On the question of nerve agents, the report says:

"No organophosphorus nerve agents or their degradation products were detected, either in the environmental samples or in plasma samples from the alleged casualties." 

On chlorine, it says "various chlorinated organic chemicals" were found in samples from two locations, along with residues of explosive. This could indicate use of chlorine as a weapon but it is by no means conclusive and the report adds: "Work by the team to establish the significance of these results is ongoing."

A clearer picture regarding chlorine should emerge when the OPCW reports on interviews with witnesses and the symptoms of alleged casualties. 

There is also a continuing investigation into two yellow containers, described by the report as industrial gas cylinders, which are alleged to been involved. One was found lying on a top-floor patio (see video above) and the other on a bed in a top floor apartment (see video below). The OPCW report says:

"Close to the location of each cylinder there were crater-like openings in the respective reinforced concrete roofs. Work is ongoing to assess the association of these cylinders with the incident, the relative damage to the cylinders and the roofs, and how the cylinders arrived at their respective locations." 

One of the cylinders was featured in a recent New York Times report along with photographic evidence suggesting at least 34 people had died in the building.

Syrian government officials did not allow OPCW investigators full access to one of the sites, because some of the apartments were found to be locked up. "The Syrian Arab Republic representatives stated that they did not have the authority to force entry into the locked apartments," the report says. 

Video of the "bedroom cylinder"