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Is Bashar al-Assad developing new type of sophisticated chemical weapon?
03 February 2018, 09:40 | Katrina Lee
Rebel Syrian area hit by third 'chemical attack' as Assad regime increases pressure on opposition
Asked if the Syrian regime was using chlorine weapons Mattis said he believed they had done so "repeatedly" but said that the United States is "even more concerned about the possibility of Sarin use, the likelihood of Sarin use, and we're looking for the evidence".
Mattis said the United States is looking for evidence of sarin use because "clearly we are dealing with the Assad regime that has used denial and deceit to hide it".
In line with the remarks issued by the State Departmentlast week, Mattis suspects that the Syrian government has been negligent in destroying the chemical weaponry after entering into an agreement with Russian Federation.
While the use of chemical and biological agents has been rare since World War I, in recent years the Syrian government and Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) have been accused of using such weapons as a tool in the conflict.
"We're even more concerned about the possibility of sarin use", he said. "What I am saying is that other groups on the ground - NGOs, fighters on the ground - have said that sarin has been used, so we are looking for evidence".
Since last April, Syria has continued to use chemical weapons, the officials said. There have been more than 260 reports of chemical attacks in Syria, some of which have been verified by UN-backed inspectors and attributed to the Assad regime.
Despite Damascus agreeing to destroy its 1,300-tonne stockpile of industrial munition following a US-Russian deal after the Ghouta attack in 2013, United Nations inspectors found evidence of an ongoing chemical weapons programme in the country.
Highlighting the previous use of barrel bombs to deploy chlorine by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, the statement said an alleged chemical attack Thursday in Eastern Ghouta would be the third instance in the last 30 days, if confirmed.
Bombardment by the Syrian regime killed at least seven civilians Friday in the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta, east of Damascus, a monitoring group reported. The officials noted that the underlying chemicals are easy to acquire or produce, and said the US does not believe ISIS has gotten a hold of military stockpiles in either Iraq or Syria. After another alleged attack in April, President Donald Trump ordered a retaliatory missile strike, but 10 months later, the US and worldwide observers say the weapons are still used.
Mr Burt referred to three specific reports of chlorine attacks by Syrian regime forces in Eastern Ghouta so far in 2018.
The U.N. says more than 270,000 people have been displaced in Idlib because of the government onslaught since December 15.
Turkey's state-run Anadolu news agency said the Turkish military cleared Bulbul, an area north of Afrin, on Thursday.