Syria's secret chemical weapon attacks
Four year years after Assad promised to get rid of his chemical stockpile, gas attacks continue
The Syrian government is maintaining and regularly deploying a stockpile of chemical weapons, according to an investigation by the news agency Reuters.
In 2013, after Syrian forces used chemical weapons against rebel fighters, killing scores of civilians, an international outcry and the threat of military retaliation led President Bashar al-Assad to promise to dismantle his chemical weapons under the supervision of the US, Russia and the UN.
Many diplomats and weapons inspectors now believe that pledge was a ruse and suspect that, while appearing to cooperate with international inspectors, Assad's regime "secretly maintained or developed a new chemical weapons capability", reports Reuters.
The news agency cites dozens of officials and diplomats who claim the Assad government has repeatedly hampered inspectors and has conducted "dozens" of chlorine attacks and "at least one major sarin attack", killing more than 200 and leaving hundreds more injured.
In June, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons claimed the banned nerve agent sarin had been used in an attack in northern Syria in April. A joint UN and OPCW investigation earlier in the year found Syrian government forces used chlorine gas in three attacks in 2014 and 2015.
"The extent of Syria's reluctance to abandon chemical weapons has not previously been made public for fear of damaging international inspectors' relationship with Assad's administration and its backer, Russia," the Israeli news outlet Haaretz reports.
Despite overwhelming evidence Assad has continued to deploy chemical weapons, the Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova laid the blame squarely on allied forces, saying there was evidence that the West is supplying chemical weapons to militants in Syria.
"Yes, it's true," she told the state-funded Vesti FM radio station on Thursday morning. "Western countries and regional powers are directly and indirectly supplying militants, terrorists and extremists in Syria with banned toxic substances".