By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The latest report on Syria by the global chemical weapons watchdog offers further evidence that the Syrian government repeatedly attacked its own citizens with poison gas, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said on Tuesday.
The 117-page report by a fact-finding mission of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) includes eyewitness accounts of helicopters dropping barrel bombs with toxic chemicals. The findings are consistent with two previous reports by the mission but offer much more detail.
After a closed-door meeting of the U.N. Security Council on progress in destroying Syria's chemical weapons program, Power said the new report added credence to allegations that the Syrian government used chlorine gas as a weapon in its four-year-old civil war after pledging to give up its toxic arsenal.
"UNSC met on Syria CW today and reviewed more compelling eyewitness evidence of chlorine gas use by Syrian regime," Power said on her Twitter feed.
"32 witnesses saw or heard sound of helicopters as bombs struck; 29 smelled chlorine," she added. "Only Syrian regime uses helos (helicopters)."
The third OPCW report does not say who used chemical weapons. Syrian Ambassador Bashar Ja'afari declined to comment.
The report contains photographs of what eyewitnesses told investigators were barrel bombs containing chlorine that were dropped from helicopters. It also includes a screen-grab from a video provided by one of the witnesses to some of the attacks that shows a yellow cloud some 50 meters (yards) high after the impact of a barrel with toxic chemicals.
The multiple incidents of alleged chlorine attacks were in the villages of Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zita. Most took place in April and May 2014. There were two alleged attacks in Talmanes, five in Al Tamanah, and 14 in Kafr Zita, where the most recent was Aug. 30.
The effort to eliminate Syria's chemical weapons program was launched after a sarin gas attack on Aug. 21, 2013 that killed hundreds of civilians in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta.
President Bashar al-Assad's government and rebel forces blamed each other for the Ghouta strike and other chemical weapons attacks, though Western government's blame Assad. Damascus joined the OPCW, without admitting responsibility for Ghouta, after the United States threatened military intervention.
After briefing the 15-nation Security Council, U.N. disarmament chief Angela Kane told reporters the OPCW mission was still trying to clarify gaps in Syrian chemical weapons declaration and hoped to destroy all remaining production facilities by June.
(Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Tom Brown)