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‘Little doubt’ Assad is to blame for sarin attack

Photo: AFP

A report by UN investigators appears to confirm that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind an August 21 chemical weapons attack in a suburb of Damascus, the US, France and Britain said Monday.


France, the US and Britain said Monday that a UN report on chemical weapon use in Syria shows, with “little doubt”, that President Bashar al-Assad was behind a sarin gas attack last month that killed hundreds of civilians.

The UN inspectors’ report, made public Monday, said that there is “clear and convincing evidence” that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale during the attack in a suburb of Damascus on August 21.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used ... in the Ghouta area of Damascus,” it said.

“The conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic ... against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.”

The Syrian rebels and their Western and Arab supporters blame Assad’s regime for the attack in the rebel-controlled area of Ghouta. The Assad regime insists that the attack was carried out by rebels – a view that has been supported by Russia.

The UN team was investigating only whether chemical weapons were used in a deadly assault on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The report does not say who launched the attack, although the British and French envoys said technical details in it pointed to government culpability.

‘Only the regime could have carried out this large-scale attack’

“When you look at the findings carefully, the quantities of toxic gas used, the complexity of the mixes, the nature, and the trajectory of the [gas] carriers, it leaves absolutely no doubt as to the origin of the attack,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told RTL radio.

“It reinforces the position of those that have said the regime is guilty.”

US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said “only the regime could have carried out this large-scale attack”, adding that the quality of the sarin was higher than that used by Iraq’s Saddam Hussein against Iran and there is no evidence the rebels possess the nerve agent.

However, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, though calling the investigators’ conclusion “deeply disturbing”, stressed that it was too early to jump to conclusions.
“Allegations that in fact it was the opposition who used chemical weapons cannot be simply shrugged off,” he said. “Those allegations also need to be very seriously investigated.”

Syria chemical weapons plan ‘to begin in a matter of days’

The alleged use of chemical weapons by Assad led to threats of military strikes against his regime by the US and others. But a diplomatic breakthrough came last week in the form of a US-Russian plan that will see Syria hand over its chemical weapons arsenal to the international community.

Following the publication of Monday’s report, the watchdog tasked with implementing the plan said the programme to remove Assad’s chemical weapons should begin the "in a matter of days”.

The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in a statement that its experts "are already at work preparing a roadmap that anticipates the various challenges involved in verifying Syria's declared stockpiles".

The US-Russian plan requires Assad to provide a complete inventory of its chemical weapons, production facilities, and "related materials" to the OPCW "on an expeditious basis".

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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