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Chemical weapons watchdog: Sarin traces in Syria attack

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) – The global chemical weapons watchdog said Thursday it found traces of sarin following an attack in northern Syria in late March, days before a deadly strike using the same nerve agent in another Syrian town.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said that tests found traces of “sarin or sarin-related chemicals” in Ltamenah after a March 30 attack that injured 50 people. No deaths were reported. The organization didn’t release further details.

Days later, an April 4 attack in the nearby town of Khan Sheikhoun killed nearly 100 people. Syria has denied responsibility for that attack. An OPCW-United Nations probe is expected to apportion blame later this month for the Khan Sheikhoun attack.

The OPCW said that the work of its fact-finding mission (FFM), which is probing chemical attacks in Syria, continues.

“Once the FFM concludes its assessment of the incident, a report will be made available to States Parties and shared with the OPCW-UN Joint Investigative Mechanism,” the OPCW said in a written statement.

The organization’s director-general, Ahmet Uzumcu, briefed member states on the latest findings earlier this week.

Syria joined the OPCW in 2013, under threat of possible U.S. military strikes in the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack on a Damascus suburb. Washington and U.S. allies accused the Syrian government of being responsible for the attack, but Damascus blamed rebels.

The United States’ U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said in a statement Wednesday OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu had “reported yet another instance of the use of the deadly chemical agent sarin, in a part of the country under routine attack by the Syrian regime.

“For years the Assad regime has used chemical weapons to murder and terrorize innocent Syrian civilians,” Haley said. “Unfortunately, it’s clear that the Syrian regime not only lied about the extent of their chemical weapons program, but that they will continue to refuse to cooperate with watchdog organizations like the OPCW. We cannot stop future chemical weapons attacks until we are able to hold the Syrian regime accountable.”

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