Syria UN chemical weapons inspectors 'attacked'

UN vehicles used by chemical weapons inspectors in Damascus, Syria (26 August 2013) UN chemical weapons inspectors have been investigating attacks in Syria since last August

A convoy of chemical weapons inspectors and UN staff that was travelling to a site of an alleged chlorine gas attack in Syria has come under attack.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said they were all safe and well, and were travelling back to their operating base.

It did not say whether they had been kidnapped in Hama province, as the Syrian government earlier claimed.

OPCW director general, Ahmet Uzumcu, expressed his concern for their safety.

"Our inspectors are in Syria to establish the facts in relation to persistent allegations of chlorine gas attacks," he said in a statement.

"Their safety is our primary concern, and it is imperative that all parties to the conflict grant them safe and secure access."

'Hijacked'

The OPCW inspectors were trying to reach the rebel-held village of Kafr Zaita, where there have been six alleged chlorine attacks in two months.

Two women use oxygen masks after an alleged chlorine gas attack in Kafr Zaita in Hama province (23 May 2014) Activists said bombs containing chlorine were dropped on Kafr Zaita twice last week

The first report of the attack on their convoy came from the Syrian foreign ministry, which said six inspectors had been "kidnapped" along with their five Syrian drivers.

The state news agency, Sana, quoted a statement as saying that shortly after leaving their government escort on Tuesday morning in the village Tayyiba Imam, a bomb had exploded beside one of the four UN-marked vehicles in the convoy.

The remaining three vehicles then turned around and headed back to Tayyiba Imam, but two were "hijacked by armed terrorist groups" en route, the statement added.

The government and rebel fighters had agreed to a day-long truce to allow the team to examine the area.

Map showing location of Kafr Zaita in Syria

The foreign ministry stressed President Bashar al-Assad's commitment to allowing the UN-OPCW mission to investigate alleged chlorine gas attacks and to providing security in areas under its control.

His opponents sought to "abort the efforts of the mission and commit terrorist crimes against UN and OPCW workers", it claimed.

Last month, the OPCW said it would be sending a mission to investigate the alleged use of chlorine in more than a dozen attacks in rebel-held areas of Hama and Idlib provinces since April.

In every case, barrel bombs were allegedly dropped from helicopters. After they exploded, casualties reportedly began displaying symptoms typical of chlorine poisoning, including sore eyes, irritated skin, breathing difficulties and bloody foaming from the mouth.

Screenshot from a video posted online on 11 April 2014 showing substantial yellow coloration at base of a cloud over Kafr Zaita, Syria, following a barrel-bomb explosion A video from Kafr Zaita on 11 April purportedly shows distinct yellow smoke after a barrel-bomb explosion

Several people have been killed, including children.

Activists said bombs containing chlorine were dropped on Kafr Zaita twice last week. They posted a video of what they said was a gas cloud floating through the village on Thursday. A man can be seen running away from the green-yellow cloud with a woman who is holding a cloth to her mouth.

The opposition has blamed the government, noting that only its forces are believed to have access to helicopters. But officials in Damascus have denied any responsibility and accused al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels.

Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). Syria signed the treaty last year after the nerve agent sarin was used in an attack on several suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of people.

More on This Story

Syria conflict

More Middle East stories

RSS

Features

  • OrangemanPunctured pride?

    How would N Ireland's Orangemen feel if Scotland left the union?


  • Sheep on Achill IslandMass exodus

    Why hundreds of thousands of people have left Ireland


  • MarchionessThames tragedy

    Survivors and victims' families remember Marchioness disaster


  • A teenaged mother in the Zaatari campUntold misery

    The plight of Syria's refugee child brides


  • Michael MosleyMeat feast?

    Which is the best eco option - eating beef, chicken or mussels?


BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.