Syrian government accused of eight chemical attacks in Aleppo
A human rights group has accused the Syrian government of conducting at least eight chemical attacks using chlorine gas on opposition-controlled residential areas during the final months in the battle for Aleppo.
Human Rights Watch said in a report that it used witness interviews and video footage to document government helicopters carrying out the attacks in rebel-held eastern Aleppo that killed at least nine civilians, including four children, and injured around 200 people.
The attacks took place in areas where government forces were planning to advance, following the front lines as they moved from east to west, the rights group said.
Ole Solvang, the organisation's deputy emergencies director, said: "The pattern of the chlorine attacks shows that they were co-ordinated with the overall military strategy for retaking Aleppo, not the work of a few rogue elements."
The Syrian government has previously denied any chemical attacks.
Human Rights Watch said the attacks were carried out between November 17 and December 13 - two days before President Bashar Assad's forces took control of eastern Aleppo in a humiliating defeat for opposition fighters trying to oust the Syrian leader.
In five of the alleged chemical attacks, the rights group said it reviewed photographs or video footage of remnants of chemical-filled improvised munitions posted online or shared with Human Rights Watch.
In all five, it said, the footage showed the same type of yellow gas cylinder and on one remnant a label was still visible with a warning that the cylinder contained gas.
Human Rights Watch said opposition-affiliated groups, first responders, activists and journalists reported that government forces also carried out chemical attacks in other locations in Syria during the same period.
While chlorine has many civilian uses, the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention that Syria joined in October 2013 bans the use of the toxic properties of any chemical as a weapon.
Inspectors charged with determining who is responsible for chemical weapons attacks in Syria have determined that the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas in 2014 and 2015 and Islamic State was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas in 2015.
The United States, Britain and France have been pressing the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on the Syrian government for using chemical weapons.
But Russia, Syria's closest ally, has repeatedly questioned investigators' conclusions linking chemical weapons use to the Assad regime.
Britain and France have drafted a Security Council resolution that would impose sanctions on 11 Syrians and 10 Syrian organisations and companies allegedly involved in chemical weapons attacks in the war-ravaged country.
But the resolution faces strong opposition from Russia.
Human Rights Watch called on the Syrian government to immediately stop using chemical weapons and urged the Security Council to impose sanctions on senior leaders in Syria's chain of command.
It also urged the 192 parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention to address Syria's alleged violations of the treaty.