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Syrian government forces condemned for deadly chlorine attacks in Aleppo

Human Rights Watch calls for 'real consequences' after two attacks in Aleppo that killed five civilians
Child is treated for effects of suspected poison gas in Aleppo (AFP)

New evidence indicates that Syrian government forces used chemical weapons in two recent attacks in Aleppo that killed five civilians and injured dozens more, according to Human Rights Watch.

The organisation called on the UN to impose sanctions on individuals responsible for the attacks and to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court.

“Even after the UN confirmed the Syrian government’s responsibility for chemical attacks on Syrian civilians, Damascus hasn’t stopped its criminal behaviour,” said Ole Solvang, deputy emergencies director at Human Rights Watch. “The Security Council could deter future atrocities by ensuring that the Syrian government faces real consequences for ignoring Security Council resolutions.”

Evidence gathered by HRW indicates that two residential neighbourhoods in rebel-controlled parts of the city of Aleppo were struck by chemical agents on 10 August and on 6 September.

After the attacks, victims were affected by "shortage of breath, coughing, reddened skin and eyes".

Three children were among those killed in the attacks, according to local activists and doctors.

“The children were unconscious and unresponsive," said a doctor interviewed by HRW.

"Their mother was shivering, coughing, and wheezing. She barely could breathe and was drooling heavily from her mouth.”

Last week, the UN Security Council gave a panel investigating chemical weapons use in Syria another month to complete its work and determine who was responsible for chlorine attacks in the war, the UN said.

The UN-led joint investigative mechanism (JIM) last month reported that Syrian government forces had carried out at least two chemical attacks in 2014 and 2015 and that Islamic State (IS) group militants had used mustard gas as a weapon.

It was the first time an authoritative probe had pointed the finger of blame at President Bashar al-Assad's forces after years of denial from Damascus.

The JIM will have until 31 October to finish the probe, the UN said in a note to correspondents. Its mandate had been due to expire last Friday. 

The UN said the extension was granted "under exceptional circumstances to allow for the completion of the mechanism's fourth report".

That report on the remaining three cases involving chlorine used in barrel bombs is expected in the coming weeks.

France is pushing the Security Council to impose sanctions on Syria based on the findings of the report, but other diplomats have privately expressed concern that the probe could be shelved as part of US-Russian negotiations on Syria.

Russia has questioned the findings of the JIM, saying they were not conclusive enough to trigger sanctions.

Chlorine use as a weapon is banned under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which Syria joined in 2013, under pressure from Russia, Assad's ally.

The JIM is to report on chemical attacks in three towns: Zafr Zita, in Hama province, on 28 April 2014, and on two villages in Idlib: Qmenas on 16 March 2015 and Binnish on 24 March 2015.

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