“The most dangerous chemicals in Syria’s arsenal” were destroyed on board the US vessel Cape Ray, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said last month.
But the Chemical Weapons Documentation Office, a pro-opposition group based in Paris that monitors the use of deadly chemical agents in Syria, maintains that the regime still possesses and deploys chemical weapons.
“We have received credible information from activists and legal scholars who work inside Syria…who said that the chemical weapons factories which the OPCW closed are still working,” Nidal Shikhani, chairman of the Chemical Weapons Documentation Office, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammed al-Haj Ali.
Although the regime gave up large supplies of sarin and mustard gas, Shikhani maintains it has taken to using chlorine, a substance not banned by chemical-weapons treaties, which can be prepared from household cleaners.
Chlorine gas is loaded in barrel bombs and releases a “white cloud” upon impact.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that chlorine gas can cause “blurred vision, burning pain, redness, and blisters…coughing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing…nausea and vomiting, watery eyes.”
Cases of extreme exposure can lead to death. Chlorine gas was used by both the Allied and Central powers in World War I until the invention of the more deadly mustard gas and phosgene.
Q: Is the regime still producing and using chemical weapons?
We have received credible information from activists and legal scholars who work inside Syria…who said that the chemical weapons factories which the OPCW closed are still working, even now.
Q: The Pentagon announced [on August 18th] that they had neutralized Syria’s chemical weapons components on board the US ship Cape Ray. How does your office view these statements?
We met a number of times with representatives from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and the UN. They mentioned that the Syrian arsenal had been removed. But the regime is still hiding a number of chemical weapons, including missiles that carry chemical-laden heads, which were transported to the regime’s allies in the region—until necessity dictates their use.
Today, a number of violations are occurring in Syria with the use of chlorine gas, prepared from chlorine—used in cleaning agents—and Flash [an all-purpose cleaner].
Chlorine gas is placed in explosive barrels. The barrel’s impact with the ground added to extremely high temperatures [from the explosion] creates a white cloud.
Chlorine gas is not included in the chemical weapons agreement that stipulates the forfeit of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile. This gas is new; the Syrian regime devised it for use in war.
Q: Have there been any documented cases of armed groups within Syria obtaining or using chemical weapons, such as Jabhat a-Nusra, the Islamic State, or the Military Council?
You can only answer that question in one way: the Syrian regime is not so stupid as to leave these weapons [unprotected] in front of the opposition. These weapons must not fall in the wrong hands.
There are people fighting who don’t know anything except how to use a gun. If these weapons fell in their hands it would represent a huge danger, because they don’t realize the extent of the effect of these weapons.
Accordingly, the Syrian regime has strived to remove all of its stockpiles from areas which might fall under opposition control. These weapons are considered among the strategic cards that the regime can play.
Until now, nothing has been documented concerning the use, or presence of these weapons in the hands of anyone except the regime.
Q: What has the OPCW accomplished thus far in Syria?
According to the reports, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons removed the regime’s stockpile [of chemical weapons].
But the reports say that 5% of the stockpile is still in regime hands. We at the Chemical Weapons Documentation Office say that the regime still owns 32%.
Q: How much progress have the Syrian opposition and the Chemical Weapons Documentation Office realized in convincing the international community that the Syrian regime is producing and using chemical weapons?
Five nations that support the chemical weapons violations [investigation] stand with us in front of the ICC. There is a group of politicians, several people who are going to meet with various governments in order to garner moral support [to help us] in front of the ICC.
The international community does not care about talk or the media. We need to present documents, testimony and damning proof which they can discuss.