CBRN Assessment

Syria offensive raises chemical attack fears

24 May 2019

A still from footage released by Russia’s ANNA news agency on 20 May shows Syria’s General Suheil al-Hassan inspecting the front in northwest Syria with an unidentified Russian major general. Source: ANNA

The apparent lack of progress that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces are making in a new offensive has raised concerns that they will resort to using chemical weapons.

"Unfortunately, we continue to see signs that the Assad regime may be renewing its use of chemical weapons, including an alleged chlorine attack in northwest Syria on the morning of 19 May," State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said on 21 May. "We repeat our warning that if the Assad regime uses chemical weapons, the United States and our allies will respond quickly and appropriately."

Testifying before a congressional committee on the following day, US special representative for Syria James Jeffrey said there was no evidence that chemical weapons had been used in the offensive against rebel-held territory in northwest Syria that began in early May but raised the prospect that such attacks could be carried out to compensate for the poor performance of Assad's ground forces.

"We are concerned first about the use of chemical weapons, which we are still looking into," he said. "At any time, this regime is willing to consider chemical weapons to aid its ground attacks because it has the world's worst infantry fighting for it."

He said the offensive was backed by Russian aircraft but had taken just 74 km 2 of territory in the north of Hamah province and was facing rebel counterattacks. "We see a seesaw battle right along the perimeter. Meanwhile… the bombing attacks, which have been indiscriminate and very vicious, has sent some 150,000-200,000 people in Idlib - most of whom are already internally displaced people - [on the] move again."

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