British ministers issued more than 70 export licenses over the past two decades for military products sold to Turkey containing white phosphorous, a British newspaper revealed .
Dozens of civilians, including several children, have been left severely injured following the reported use of the incendiary chemical in Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria, which began October 9.
Mohammed Hamid, 13, was left with burns to 70 percent of his body following an attack on the town of Sari Kani (Ras al-Ain) amid fierce fighting between Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and Turkish-backed Syrian militias.
Doctors in the city of Tel Tamr have treated at least a dozen people with burns consistent with a white phosphorus attack.
The UN Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has launched an investigation into the suspected chemical attack on Kurdish civilians, although many have speculated that Turkey is to blame.
The US is also investigating whether its military aid to Turkey has been used against the Kurds.
The use of white phosphorous, commonly used to create smokescreens, is permitted under several treaties.
The Geneva Protocol and the Chemical Weapons Convention, however, ban the use of the substance in instances where civilians could be harmed.
Amnesty International says its “use in the vicinity of civilian concentrations” is a war crime.
The chemical burns “deep into the muscle and bone”, and is previously thought to have been used by the US-led coalition against the Islamic State group (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria.
The British government did not initially join other European states in halting arms sales to the Turkish state after its invasion of Kurdish-controlled northern Syria, known as Rojava.
Following demands from British ministers for an investigation into Turkish arms licenses, Foreign Minister Dominic Raab announced the suspension of export licenses to Turkey “for items that might be used in military operations in Syria” on October 15, a day before the alleged use of the chemical weapon on Kurdish civilians.
Speaking to The Times, Hamish de Bretton Gordon, former commander of the UK’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, said it was “almost” certain that the UK had sold white phosphorous to Turkey, although he expressed caution over assuming Turkey was behind the recent chemical attack in Sari Kani.
“Assad, local militias – everybody in northeast Syria has white phosphorous,” he said. It is possible to trace samples of the chemical back to its country of origin, however.
The British government told The Times it keeps all defence exports under “careful and continual review”.