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Chemical weapons watchdog identifies possible sarin gas attack near Syria's capital last year

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UNITED NATIONS — The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has identified the Damascus suburb of Daraya as the site of a possible sarin gas attack last year, citing blood samples provided by the Syrian government.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council circulated Monday, the watchdog describes an incident on Feb. 15, 2015 near the Shrine of Sukayna where government soldiers reported a strange smell and began exhibiting symptoms consistent with sarin gas.

The report marks the first time that OPCW investigators have identified the site of a possible attack involving the nerve agent in Syria.

"The blood sample analysis indicates that four individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance," the report says.

Investigators said they linked the blood samples to casualties through DNA testing and followed up with interviews with victims, but they were unable to determine the exact date of exposure and when the samples were drawn.

They also could not guarantee the integrity of the samples between the time they were drawn and when they were sealed.

The report says the soldiers, who were under fire from various weapons, were unable to determine what kind of device was used to disperse the gas.

The organization says it plans to return to Syria to continue its investigation.

The OPCW only carries out fact-finding missions, but the Security Council last year established an expert team that will seek to determine who is behind the chemical attacks in Syria's civil war.

The opposition accuses President Bashar Assad's government of carrying out chemical attacks, but the government has denied it and blames the opposition, including Islamic State extremists who control about a third of the country.

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