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U.N. Investigates Possible Chemical Weapons Use by Turkish Forces in Syria

Smoke rises over the Syrian town of Ras al-Ain as seen from the border town of Ceylanpinar, Turkey, October 15, 2019. (Stoyan Nenov/Reuters)

United Nations chemical-weapons inspectors announced that they are investigating whether Turkish forces used chemical weapons in their invasion of Syria, the Guardian reported Friday.

The Kurds have accused Turkey of using white phosphorous during their recent incursion into northeastern Syria. The Kurdish Red Crescent claims that six patients, including civilians and military members, have been hospitalized in the city of Hasakah due to burns from “unknown weapons.”

The organization could not confirm chemical-weapons usage, saying it was “working together with our international partners to investigate this subject.” However, a British chemical-weapons expert who examined a photo of one of the victims said the burns on the victim were likely from a chemical weapon.

“The most likely culprit is white phosphorus,” said Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former commander of Britain’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment. “It is a horrific weapon, and has been used repeatedly during the Syrian civil war; unfortunately its use has become increasingly normalized.”

White phosphorous can be used legally as a smokescreen or as an incendiary at night to illuminate the battlefield, and is held by militaries worldwide. The use of white phosphorous as a weapon, however, is illegal under international law because it causes severe burns upon contact with skin.

While some Kurdish officials alleged that Turkey used “unconventional weapons” in Syria, Turkey denies this.

“It is a fact known by everyone that there are no chemical weapons in the inventory of the Turkish armed forces,” said Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar.

Turkey invaded northeast Syria on October 9 to clear a “safe zone” in which to resettle 3.6 million Syrian refugees residing in Turkey, as well as to combat Kurdish groups in the region it considers terrorist organizations. Some of these Kurdish groups were instrumental in the U.S.-led fight against ISIS in Syria.

Syrian president Bashar Assad has repeatedly used chemical weapons against Syrian citizens in that country’s civil war.

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