UNITED NATIONS – U.N. weapons inspectors have found clear and convincing evidence that rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack on the suburbs of Damascus.
The U.N. report, presented Monday to the U.N. Security Council, marks the first time that an internationally recognized team with expertise in chemical weapons has officially confirmed the use of such weapons in Syria.
The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after briefing the U.N. Security Council on the report. This is a war crime . . . and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century. He called the results of the U.N. investigation overwhelming and indisputable.
The report does not directly blame either the Syrian government or the opposition for carrying out the attack. But French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said the underlying evidence presented by the U.N. inspectors – including the trajectory of sarin-filled rockets – leaves no doubt that the government was responsible.
When you look at the facts, the quantities of toxic gas, the complexities of the chemical mixtures and the trajectory of the rocket vectors, all that leaves absolutely no doubt as to the origin of the attack, he told French radio station RTL. The report, he added, confirms the position of those of us who have said the regime is guilty.
Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said while the U.N. inspectors had no mandate to assign blame, the technical details of the U.N. report make it clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack.
Power said one of the weapons used in the attack, a 122mm rocket, has been used by government forces in previous attacks. She said the United States has no evidence of the rebels manufacturing or using this style of rocket.
The chief U.N. weapons inspector, Ake Sellstrom, said the quality of the sarin used in the attack was higher than that of the sarin used by Saddam Husseins program in Iraq, Power said. Sellstrom also stated that weapons obtained on the site of the scene of this monstrous crime were professionally made. He said that they bore none of the characteristics of improvised weapons.
The United States said the rockets were fired from regime-controlled locations and contained sarin, killing more than 1,400 people, including more than 400 children. Syria and its ally, Russia, subsequently claimed that rebels were to blame.
The secretary-general said 85 percent of the blood samples taken by U.N. investigators tested positive for sarin.
A majority of the environmental samples confirmed the use of sarin, he said. A majority of the rockets or rocket fragments recovered were found to be carrying sarin.
The attack was a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol against chemical weapons and other rules of customary international law, the U.N. chief said. It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988. He referred to a gas attack ordered by the Iraqi dictator against a Kurdish village, killing an estimated 5,000 people.
The U.N. teams mandate was to determine whether a chemical weapons attack occurred, not to specify who carried it out.
However, the report included detail on the rockets used in the attack, including one fired on Moadamiya that had Cyrillic markings on the bottom ring of its engine. The report described the munitions fired on Zamalka and Ein Tarma as unguided rockets that were believed to have been launched from the northwest.
The report said the team found remnants of a variant of the M14 artillery rocket, with either an original or an improvised warhead at one site and of a 330 mm caliber artillery rocket at another.
Citing Sellstroms deeply disturbing conclusion that chemical weapons have been used in Syria, Russias U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow condemns the use of such weapons but that we need not to jump to any conclusion. He scolded his Western counterparts, saying that some colleagues jumped to their conclusions when they were saying the Sellstrom report definitely proves that it was the government forces who used chemical weapons.
Churkin deflected questions about the inspectors finding that some of the Syrian rockets used in the attack bore inscriptions in Cyrillic, which is used by Russian makers. He said the United Nations needs to have U.N. chemical weapons experts research it.