Turkey may have used chemical weapons on the Kurdish civilians Trump left vulnerable

Associated PressIn this photo taken from the Turkish side of the border between Turkey and Syria, in Ceylanpinar, Sanliurfa province, southeastern Turkey, flames and smoke billow from a fire on a target in Ras al-Ayn, Syria, caused by shelling by Turkish forces, Thursday, Oct. 17, 2019. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and State Secretary Mike Pompeo were scheduled to arrive in Ankara Thursday and press Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to accept a ceasefire in northeast Syria. (AP Photo/Cavit Ozgul)
  • The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in northeastern Syria.
  • The OPCW said that it was “aware of the situation and is collecting information with regard to possible use of chemical weapons,” but cautioned that it has “not yet determined the credibility of these allegations.”
  • Images from a hospital in a Syrian border town showed children with horrific burns that may be consistent with white phosphorus, a chemical that can cause excruciating burns if it touches human skin.
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Editor’s note: This story contains graphic images of children burned in the Turkish-led offensive.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is looking into the possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict in northeastern Syria. The Kurdish Red Crescent has raised concerns about civilians being affected by chemical weapons in the conflict between Turkish and Turkish-backed forces and Kurdish led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

“The OPCW is aware of the situation in northern Syria and is collecting information at OPCW Headquarters with regard to the alleged use of chemical weapons. So far, the OPCW has not yet determined the credibility of these allegations,” the OPCW told Insider via email. The allegations were first reported by Lara Seligman in Foreign Policy.

The Kurdish Red Crescent said in a statement that six victims had burns from “unknown weapons” and that it was investigating the incident. The Times of London reported that a 13-year-old boy in a hospital in Tal Tamir, near fighting in Ras al-Ayn, was affected with excruciating burns that suggested more than just a conventional weapon.

The Kurdish Red Crescent told the Rojava Information Centre that the victims suffered second- and third- degree burns, and that, “We as KRC cannot confirm use of chemical weapons yet, but working together with international partners to investigate this subject.”

Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former official with the UK’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, told The Guardian that photos of the injuries suggested the use of white phosphorus, a chemical that in itself is not illegal to use during combat; it can illuminate an area at night, and provide a smokescreen for troops during daylight hours. But its use against civilians is banned, as it causes horrific and searingly painful burns on the skin.

“It is a horrific weapon, and has been used repeatedly during the Syrian civil war; unfortunately its use has become increasingly normalized,” de Bretton-Gordon told The Guardian.

Several reports from 2017 allege the use of white phosphorus by the US-led coalition in Syria in 2017, although it is unclear whether its use caused civilian injuries.

On Thursday, a halt in Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish-backed forces was announced; however, Kurdish-led forces near the border say that the fighting has continued on the border, in the Syrian town of Ras al-Ayn. According to Kurdish forces, civilians were hit in shelling by Turkish and Turkish-backed Syrian forces, and five Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighers were killed, CNN reported.

Turkey has denied the reports, but emphasised that this is not a permanent ceasefire, and that it will continue to attack should Kurdish-backed forces should they not evacuate Turkey’s proposed “safe zone” by Tuesday night.

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