Editor's note: This story contains graphic images of children burned in the Turkish-led offensive.
The United Nations is investigating the possible use of chemical weapons in the conflict in northeastern Syria, according to The Guardian's Dan Sabbagh. The Kurdish Red Crescent has raised concerns about Turkish forces and Turkish-supported opposition forces using chemical weapons.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) told The Guardian 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.”
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 was affected with excruciating burns that suggested more than just a conventional weapon.
The Kurdish Red Crescent told the Rojava Information Center 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.”
Kurdish Red Crescent:
– Have seen six burns victims from Sere Kaniye, both civilian and military
– Victims suffered level two and three burns
– "We as KRC cannot confirm use of chemical weapons yet, but working together with international partners to investigate this subject." pic.twitter.com/NhU96UwbAc
— Rojava Information Center (@RojavaIC) October 18, 2019
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a former official with the UK's chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, told The Guardian that photos of the burns 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 U.S.-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 emphasized 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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