Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad is still using chemical weapons against civilians, a scientific analysis of samples from multiple gas attacks has shown.
In the first independent testing of its kind, conducted exclusively for The Daily Telegraph newspaper, soil samples from the scene of three recent attacks in the country were collected by trained individuals known to this news organisation and analysed by a chemical warfare expert.
The results show sizeable and unambiguous traces of chlorine and ammonia present at the site of all three attacks, the daily reported Wednesday.
The use in war of "asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases" - both of which can be produced by chlorine and ammonia - is banned by the Geneva Protocol, of which Syria is a signatory, it noted.
The attacks, which in some cases used canisters marked with their chemical contents, were conducted by helicopter.
In the Syrian civil war, only the regime has access to aerial power, making it now certain that the recent chemical attacks could only have been carried out by the regime, not the opposition, the Telegraph went on.
Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, a British chemical weapons expert involved in the testing, said: "We have unequivocally proved that the regime has used chlorine and ammonia against its own civilians in the last two to three weeks." Even as results of the Telegraph tests were being made public yesterday, the global chemical weapons watchdog Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapon (OPCW) announced it would be sending a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate allegations of the gas attacks.
The Syrian government said it would accept the mission and is promising to provide security. The regime had previously agreed to hand over its chemical weapons to international control following an attack in the suburbs of Damascus last August.
That attack is said to have killed up to 1,400 people and sparked international outrage.
But even as the OPCW now works to remove the last elements of Syria's declared stockpile, a crude but deadly new type of chemical attack is being launched, the publication said.
In the last two weeks alone, there have been eight separate chemical attacks on rebel-held towns and villages in Idlib province.
The Syrian government has denied the claim that it is using chemical weapons again as a "baseless allegation" with some critics, including Russia, claiming the attacks could have been mounted by the rebels themselves to trigger international intervention.
But chemical tests conducted with The Telegraph now confirm that chlorine gas and ammonia have been used in Idlib, and that the toxins came from barrels that were dropped from helicopters.
The paper said it has obtained soil samples collected from sites of chemical attacks inside Syria by 'Dr Ahmad' - a medic whose real identity cannot be revealed for his own protection - who had previously received training in sample collection by western chemical weapons experts.