REPORTS ARE emerging from Mosul that chemical weapons have been used on the civilian population for the first time since Syria’s civil war began.
The city is divided by the river Tigris. Government forces on the east side of the river are facing Daesh forces on the west side – each side fighting to gain or retain control of the city.
Some 750,000 civilians are believed to be living in the western part of the city. Each side is under attack from the air: recent bombing of the west by pro-government forces has created cover which has allowed small numbers to escape to the eastern side; while targeted use of commercial drones by Daesh has seen smaller but no less harmful bombs drop on the population in the east.
Aid agencies, confident that the current battle will see Daesh routed and victory for government forces, are preparing to deal with as many as a quarter of a million people made homeless in the battle for Mosul. Privately, many observers admit that many thousands may die as Daesh defend their position in Mosul – the last big city in Syria of which they control a substantial part.
Now the fighting has been heightened by the first use of chemical weapons. The incident was picked up by doctors working for the International Red Cross (ICRC), who spotted two separate instances of civilians reporting with injuries consistent with having been exposed to chemical weapons – blistering injuries to the skin, irritation to the eyes, vomiting and breathing problems.
Witnesses to the attacks confirmed that a foul smell had spread after mortars had landed. Both explosive devices fell in the east of the city, and it is therefore thought most likely that the bombs, with their chemical load, were fired over to the area by Daesh forces in the West.
The use of chemical weapons is a war crime, but finding those who made and used the bombs would be almost impossible, and a trial is not likely. This incident is not the first time chemical weapons have been used in Syria, including near Mosul, but it is the first time they have been used in the main part of the city. Both Daesh and Syrian government forces have been accused of using chemical weapons. Aid agencies are now preparing to treat victims of any further uses of chemical weapons.