Watchdog: Assad Gassed Civilians in April

Bashar al-Assad / AP

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons on Syrian villages in April, according to an international watchdog agency.

The New York Times reports:

The conclusion, based on months of investigation by a fact-finding team, appeared to indicate that the Syrian government was continuing to use chemical weapons in the country’s civil war, despite having agreed to forswear the weapons, surrender its arsenal and tear down its manufacturing plants.

The agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, said in a statement from its headquarters in The Hague that the information its team had collected provided "compelling evidence" that the toxic chemical was used "systematically and repeatedly" in Talmanes, Al Tamanah and Kafr Zet, three villages in northern Syria.

It said it had "a high degree of confidence that chlorine, pure or in mixture, is the toxic chemical in question," based on the descriptions, physical properties, behavior of the gas, and signs and symptoms resulting from exposure, as well as the way victims responded to treatment.

The watchdog group did not say who conducted the attacks, but the report "is understood to leave little doubt that the Syrian government was responsible," according to the Times.

Syria agreed last year in a deal brokered by the United States and Russia to give up its chemical weapons. The United States said Syria’s declared stockpile of chemical weapons was destroyed in August.

However, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power expressed concerns last week that Syria may still be hiding its chemical weapons.