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THE HAGUE, Netherlands -- The global chemical weapons watchdog said Wednesday that the sarin nerve agent and chlorine were "very likely" used as weapons in two attacks in central Syria in March 2017, the latest accusation of chemical attacks in the country's civil war.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its fact-finding mission to investigate alleged attacks in Syria found that "sarin was very likely used as a chemical weapon in the south of Latamneh" in Hama province on March 24, 2017, and that chlorine was very likely used a day later at and near Latamneh Hospital.

The fact-finding team is not mandated to apportion blame. A joint team of the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which was tasked with determining blame for such attacks, no longer exists because Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, last year vetoed a U.N. Security Council resolution to extend its mandate.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said its findings published Wednesday were based on witness testimony and analysis of samples.

The attack occurred as government forces, backed by planes and helicopters, were battling rebels in the area.

Days after the Latamneh attacks, sarin was used in a deadly attack at nearby Khan Sheikhoun, killing scores of people. The now-defunct joint investigative team blamed that attack on Syrian government forces. Damascus denies responsibility.

The group Physicians for Human Rights reported the hospital attack last year, saying the Latamneh surgical hospital -- a facility built into a cave to protect it from airstrikes -- was hit by multiple barrel bombs.

The group said at the time that the attack only caused minor structural damage, but multiple sources inside the hospital testified that at least one of the bombs contained a chemical agent.

The hospital's coordinator told Physicians for Human Rights that the attack and chemical exposure led to the death of one of the hospital's doctors, Dr. Ahmed Darwish, the group said.

Doctors Without Borders said it provided support to the hospital in Latamneh. It said a bomb dropped by a helicopter hit the entrance of the building and that information collected by the hospital's medical staff suggested that chemical weapons were used.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is expected within weeks to announce the results of its investigation into a suspected chemical attack on April 7 on the town of Douma, near the capital. The United States, Britain and France blamed Syrian government forces and launched punitive airstrikes. Syria denied responsibility.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, the U.N. envoy for Syria said he will host senior officials from Iran, Russia and Turkey in Geneva next week to discuss efforts to create a constitutional committee that could help one day bring peace to the war-devastated country.

Staffan de Mistura has recently focused his attention on the diplomatic track with the three powers to try to find a way out of Syria's seven-year civil war. Previous attempts at finding a path to peace, by hosting delegations from the government and opposition groups for talks in Geneva, largely failed.

De Mistura's office said Wednesday that the "consultations" among the unspecified officials are to take place in Geneva on Monday and Tuesday. It said he will provide further details at a meeting with reporters today.

Information for this article was contributed by staff members of The Associated Press.

A Section on 06/14/2018

Print Headline: Report released in Syrian airstrikes

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