A newspaper-initiated investigation, that claims to prove the use of chlorine and ammonia bombs on civilian targets by the government of President Bashar al-Assad regime of Syria, has led to the formation of a fact-finding team of weapons inspectors by the Brussels-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).

The Director-General of the OPCW announced the mission “to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine in Syria.”

London-based The Daily Telegraph front-paged an exclusive report that claimed that the chemical bomb attacks on rebel-held villages and towns in the Idlib province took place early this month. It based its conclusion on the results of tests carried out on forensic samples collected from these villages. Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, described by the paper as a “chemical warfare expert,” carried out the tests. Mr. de Bretton-Gordon is the Director of Secure Bio, a private company.

Forensic samples were collected by a Dr. Ahmad (whose real name the paper withheld) from the bombed sites and handed over to the newspaper’s representatives in Turkey, along with video-footage that he shot. The samples were passed on to Mr. de Bretton-Gordon.

“Watched by The Daily Telegraph in the Turkish town of Gaziantep, Mr. De Bretton-Gordon tested them for chlorine and ammonia,” the paper reported, adding that the samples contained the banned chemicals.

Asked for a reaction to the Telegraph exclusive, an OPCW representative said that they reserve comments till the team completes its investigation.

Richard Guthrie, a leading chemical and biological expert, and coordinating editor of CWB, believes the evidence put together by The Daily Telegraph is “compelling.” However, he also feels that a private initiative “will always be seen as less credible than a formal investigation by an inter-governmental organisation,” and therefore the OPCW must conduct its own independent research.

School children killed

AFP reports:

An air raid on a rebel-held neighbourhood of Syria’s main northern city Aleppo on Wednesday hit a school, killing at least 18 people, 10 of them children, a monitoring group said.

At least one teacher was also among the dead in the raid on the Ansari district of the former commercial hub, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Amateur video distributed by activists in Aleppo showed rows of bodies of children, some of them bloodied, wrapped in grey body bags on the ground.

Aleppo-based citizen journalist Mohammed al-Khatieb told AFP via the Internet that the children were “holding a drawing exhibition when two air strikes, 10 minutes apart, struck the school.”

Mission is to establish facts surrounding allegations of the use of chlorine