March 4 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization said there is evidence of chemical weapons being used against civilians outside Mosul, with a dozen people injured, four severely, in the several days.
The WHO in a statement Friday said it has activated an emergency response to the alleged chemical weapons at medical facilities surrounding the northern Iraqi city. The Iraqi government has waged a months-long military campaign to oust the Islamic State from Mosul, its last major stronghold in the country.
Since Wednesday, the WHO said 12 people, including women and children, have sought medical treatment for symptoms consistent with chemical weapons that caused burning and blisters. The victims lived in the Mosul suburb of Erbil, the WHO said.
"Since the beginning of the Mosul crisis, WHO has been taking concrete steps to ensure preparedness for the potential use of chemical weapons, together with local health authorities," the WHO said in a statement Friday. "As part of a chemical weapons contingency plan, WHO experts have trained more than 120 clinicians and provided them with equipment to safely decontaminate and stabilize patients before they are referred to pre-identified hospitals for further care."
The International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed the WHO's findings, saying it had found evidence of seven victims at a hospital close to Mosul. It was unclear whether those victims were among the 12 identified by the WHO.
"During the past two days, the hospital has admitted five children and two women showing clinical symptoms consistent with an exposure to a blistering chemical agent," said Robert Mardini, the Red Cross regional director for the Middle East. "The use of chemical weapons is absolutely prohibited under international humanitarian law. We are deeply alarmed by what our colleagues have seen, and we strongly condemn any use of chemical weapons, by any party, anywhere."