Syria rejects watchdog investigation into 2018 gas attack

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — Syria on Wednesday rejected as fabricated the results of an investigation by the global chemical weapons watchdog, which found “reasonable grounds to believe” that a Syrian air force helicopter dropped a chlorine cylinder on a Syrian town in 2018,

In a statement, the Syrian Foreign Ministry said it condemned in the strongest terms the report issued Monday by the Netherlands-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.

It was the second time the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team has concluded that Syrian government armed forces likely were responsible for a gas attack. Last year, the team also found reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Air Force was responsible for attacks using chlorine and the nerve agent sarin in March 2017 in the town of Latamneh.

In the latest report, the OPCW investigation team said it found evidence that a military helicopter belonging to the Tiger Forces of the Syrian air force dropped at least one chlorine cylinder on the rebel-held northern Syrian town of Saraqeb on Feb. 4, 2018, sickening 12 people.

Syria has repeatedly been accused of using chemical weapons during the country’s grinding civil war. The government of President Bashar Assad denies the claims.

In its statement Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry again categorically denied its use of toxic gases in the town of Saraqeb “or any other city or village in Syria.”

The OPCW can’t hold individuals criminally responsible for attacks.

The investigative team was established after Russia blocked the extension of a joint investigation mechanism set up by the U.N. and OPCW in 2015. That team accused Syria of using chlorine in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015 and of unleashing sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April 2017 that killed about 100 people.

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