AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The executive branch of the world’s chemical weapons watchdog on Thursday condemned the use of banned sarin and chlorine bombs by Syria’s air force, but stopped short of taking direct action to penalise Damascus.
It followed a report in April by Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons investigators, which found that Syrian Sukhoi Su-22 military planes and a helicopter dropped the bombs on the village of Ltamenaha in the Hama region in March 2017.
Syria, which joined the OPCW in 2013 to avert military intervention by the United States over a previous chemical attack, has said it fully destroyed a stockpile of chemical weapons declared to the OPCW, but inspectors have found undeclared toxins and munitions during site visits.
In a vote of 29-3, a decision was adopted by the politically-divided 41-member Executive Council of the OPCW in The Hague. Nine countries abstained.
A stronger response to Syria’s violation of the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention could follow at the next meeting of the OPCW’s full membership, the Conference of States Parties, which starts in late November.
“The Council ...condemned the use of chemical weapons as reported by the OPCW Investigation and Identification Team (IIT), which concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Syrian Arab Republic used chemical weapons in Ltamenah, Syria in March 2017.”
It “establishes that the Syrian Arab Republic failed to declare and destroy all of its chemical weapons and chemical weapons production facilities,” the decision said.
Along with its military ally Russia, Syria has repeatedly denied the use of chemical weapons in the civil war.
The OPCW council said it “expresses deep concern that the Syrian Arab Republic did not cooperate with, and provide access to, the IIT.”
Thursday’s decision gave Damascus 90 days to declare “the facilities where the chemical weapons, including precursors, munitions, and devices, used in the 24, 25, and 30 March 2017 attacks were developed, produced, stockpiled, and operationally stored for delivery.”
In the event Damascus fails to meet the deadline, the council will recommend taking action limiting Syria’s OPCW membership rights at the Conference of States Parties later this year. The CSP could also recommend reporting Syria to the U.N. Security Council.
Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Toby Chopra