A new team established by the global chemical weapons watchdog to attribute blame for the use of banned munitions in Syria will investigate nine alleged attacks during the country's civil war, including in the town of Douma, sources briefed on the matter told Reuters.
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was created in 1997 as a technical body to enforce a global non-proliferation treaty. It had until now only been authorized to say whether chemical attacks occurred, not who perpetrated them.
Last June, the Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) was established by the OPCW's member states during a special session, a move that has brought deeper political division to the UN-back agency. Now it has identified the locations of its first investigations to be conducted in the coming three years.
The British-led proposal creating the 10-member team was supported by the United States and European Union, but opposed by Russia, Iran, Syria and their allies.
Syria has refused to issue visas to the team's members or to provide it with documentation, OPCW chief Fernando Arias said in comments to member states published last month.
There were reports of dozens of fatalities on April 7, 2018, after an attack on Douma, at the time held by the opposition but besieged by pro-regime forces.
US President Donald Trump blamed the attack on Syrian forces and launched missile strikes on Syrian government targets a week later with the backing of France and Britain.
As part of a deal brokered with Russia, Damascus vowed to completely destroy its chemical weapons capabilities, but attacks with banned munitions have been widespread and systematic during the civil war, which began in 2011.
A United Nations-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) carried out the task of assigning blame for chemical weapons attacks, but Russia vetoed a resolution to extend its mandate beyond November 2017.
The new team at the OPCW is focusing on sites of chemical attacks where culprits have not yet been identified by the JIM, dating back as far back as 2015.
The JIM concluded in a series of reports since then that the Syrian military used both nerve agent sarin and chlorine as weapons, while ISIS used sulphur mustard gas on the battlefield.