U.S. Intelligence Finds Syrian Government Conducted Chlorine Rocket Attack in May


Syrian government forces carried out a chlorine attack in May, the first confirmed violation of the international accord banning chemical weapons since President Trump authorized a U.S. military strike on Syria in 2018 over its alleged use of poison gas, a new U.S. intelligence assessment says.

The episode took place on May 19 near the village of Kabana as President

Bashar al-Assad’s

forces sought to subdue resistance in Latakia province, a senior U.S. official said.

Secretary of State

Mike Pompeo

announced the assessment Thursday in an effort to dissuade the Assad government from repeating its use of chemical agents on the battlefield.

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“The United States will not allow these attacks to go unchallenged,” Mr. Pompeo said. “Nor will we tolerate those who chose to conceal these atrocities.”

At least four people were wounded in the rocket strike, which was alleged at the time by the Syrian opposition but took months for U.S. intelligence to confirm. The Syrian government has denied the attack.

The chemical weapons convention, which Syria joined in 2013, prohibits the development, production and use of poison gas. The production of chlorine, which has civilian applications, is not banned by the treaty, but its use as a weapon of war is proscribed by the accord.

The main U.S. response to its confirmation of a chlorine attack has been to disclose its findings and to provide $4.5 million to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to strengthen its ability to investigation chemical weapons use. That organization oversees the implementation of the accord banning chemical weapon. Mr. Pompeo didn’t say what additional steps, if any, might be taken.

Britain and France are also expected to issue statements.

The Trump administration has carried out two military strikes against Syrian military facilities in response to its use of chemical weapons.

In April 2018, the U.S., France and Britain carried out a series of missile strikes following the Assad government’s alleged use of chemical weapons earlier that month in the Syrian city of Douma.

In April 2017, the U.S. fired Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian air base after it concluded that Syrian warplanes had used the installation to mount an attack on the town of Khan Shaykhum using sarin, a nerve agent.

Syria’s arsenal of chemical weapons was a major concern for President Obama, who warned that any use of poison gas could cross a U.S. “red line.”

After Syrian forces used sarin in 2013 near the Syrian capital in attack that killed some 1,400 people, Mr. Obama initially authorized a military response but then decided against it. Instead, his administration negotiated an agreement with Russia to rid Syria of its chemical weapons agents, equipment for producing them and chemical munitions.

But not all of the Syria’s chemical arsenal was destroyed, and Syrian forces also began carrying out attacks using chlorine.

U.S. officials say that the Syrian military has resorted to the use of chemical agents to compensate for manpower shortages on the battlefield. Another concern, U.S. officials say, is that the Assad government may expand its missile and chemical programs as it consolidates its gains and has more resources to devote to unconventional weapons.

When reports that chlorine has been used in May emerged, the State Department said they would be investigated, and repeated earlier warnings that “the United State will respond quickly and appropriately” if the Assad government uses chemical weapons.

U.S. officials say there is no evidence directly linking Russia to the allege chlorine attack in May.

But the fighting in Idlib in recent months has been particularly intense as Syrian forces and Russian aircraft have sought to retake the last opposition stronghold. U.S. officials say that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed in that fighting.

Earlier this month, Russia and China voted a U.N. Security Council resolution drafted by Germany, Belgium and Kuwait and supported by nine additional Council members that called for a truce in the Iblib region. Russia insisted that the measure except military offensives against militant groups.

Reflecting concern over Russia’s role, the U.S. moved Thursday to sanction two Russian companies for trying to surreptitiously provide jet fuel to Russian forces in Syria.

Write to Michael R. Gordon at michael.gordon@wsj.com

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