Syrian opposition activists have posted photographs and video footage which they say show an improvised chlorine bomb, to back up claims that president Bashar al-Assad’s forces used chemical weapons in two attacks last week.
Rebels and government forces have blamed each other for the alleged poison gas attacks last Friday and Saturday on the rebel-held Kfar Zeita village in the central province of Hama, about 125 miles north of the capital, Damascus.
Both sides said that chlorine gas – a deadly agent widely used during the First World War – had been used.
The gas, which has industrial uses, is not on a list of chemical weapons that Mr Assad declared to the global chemical weapons watchdog last year for destruction. It is a so-called dual-use chemical, which would have to be declared to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), a spokesman said.
State-run television on Saturday accused the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front of carrying out the attacks, which it said wounded dozens.
Then on Sunday, activists from the “Syrian Revolution in Kfar Zeita” posted video footage and pictures of an unexploded canister with the chemical symbol for chlorine, Cl2, on its side, which they said was found in the village.
Eliot Higgins, a UK-based weapons researcher who trawls daily through online videos of Syria’s civil war in order to verify weapons seen, could not verify the opposition’s claims but said the videos did appear to show an industrial chlorine cylinder. He said: “It looks like they [the government] have taken an industrial chlorine cylinder, put it in an improvised barrel bomb and dropped it out of a helicopter.”
The yellow paint on the cylinder complies with international standards on industrial gas colour codes, indicating that it contains chlorine, he said.
A United Nations inquiry found in December that sarin gas had likely been used in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where hundreds of people were killed.
The inquiry only examined whether chemical weapons had been used, not who had used them.
The Syrian government and the opposition have each accused the other of using chemical weapons on several occasions; both have denied it.
The Ghouta attack sparked global outrage and a US threat of military strikes, which was dropped after Mr Assad pledged to destroy his chemical weapons.
Syria has destroyed or surrendered 65.1 per cent of the 1,300 metric tonnes of chemical weapons it reported possessing, but must increase the pace if it is to meet deadlines it agreed to, the OPCW said on Monday.
A 13th shipment was loaded on to cargo ships in the port town of Latakia yesterday to be destroyed abroad, it said.
OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu said that while the latest handover was encouraging, “both the frequency and volumes of deliveries have to increase significantly to restore alignment of actual movements against the projected time frame”.
Syria has until 30 June to completely abandon its programme but is running several weeks behind schedule.
The country’s three-year civil war has killed more than 150,000 people – a third of them civilians – and caused millions more to flee.