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HRW cites evidence Syria used chemical weapons

[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said [news release] on Tuesday that it has strong evidence the Syrian government used chemical weapons on three rebel-held towns in Northern Syria last month. The announcement reveals results of a two-week investigation [press release] by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) [official website] into the alleged chemical warfare. HRW asserts that evidence strongly indicates that the Syrian government dropped "barrel bombs" containing cylinders full of chlorine gas from helicopters into Keferzita, al-Teman'a and Telmans, three towns in Northern Syria, between April 11 and 21. HRW also alleges that the attacks were targeted at civilians and that doctors treating the victims reported eleven deaths and approximately 500 injuries. A chemical warfare agents expert stated that information obtained through witness interviews and videos of the incidents "strongly support" the use of chlorine gas in the attacks. Nadim Houry, HRW's deputy director of its Middle East and North Africa division, condemned the use of chlorine gas as a weapon emphasizing that it is a violation of an international treaty [treaty website] that Syria joined last year. Houry recommended that the UN Security Council [official website] refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website]. The Syrian government is suspected of the attacks, in part because it is the only party to the unrest with access to the necessary aircraft.

Syria's alleged use of chemical weapons and the ensuing investigation is the latest major development in the ongoing Syrian Civil War [JURIST backgrounder]. When OPCW announced its fact-finding mission last month, both the Syrian government and the rebel forces acknowledged [JURIST report] that chemical weapons were used in the incidents but neither party accepted responsibility for the attacks. On April 8, UN human rights chief, Navi Pillay, told [JURIST report] the UN Security Council that human rights violations by Syrian government forces "far outweigh" those by armed rebels and called for the involvement of the ICC. Pillay's appeal came less than a week after a British-based human rights group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, announced that more than 150,000 people have died [JURIST report] as a result of the Syrian civil war that began in March 2011. According to a March 2014 report [JURIST report] by a panel of UN human rights experts, many deaths occurred as a result of war violations that occurred between January 20 and March 10, 2014. Among the violations depicted was that of "execution fields" where mass killings were reportedly committed by jihadist rebels against Syrian civilians.

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