UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon: 'This was a grave crime
and those responsible must be brought to justice as soon as
possible.' Photo Reuters
UN chemical investigators have confirmed the use of sarin
nerve agent in an August 21 poison gas attack outside the
Syrian capital in a long-awaited report that confirmed the
West's suspicions but was not intended to assign blame.
"This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical
weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in
Halabja (Iraq) in 1988," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
said. "The international community has pledged to prevent any
such horror from recurring, yet it has happened again."
The UN team was investigating only whether chemical weapons
were used in a deadly assault on the rebel-held Damascus
suburb of Ghouta. It was not charged with concluding who
launched the attack.
"On the basis of the evidence obtained during the
investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that
chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict
between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against
civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale,"
said the report by chief UN investigator Ake Sellstrom of
"In particular, 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," it said.
The report said the weather conditions on August 21 ensured
that as many people as possible were injured or killed.
Temperatures were falling between 2am and 5am, it said, which
meant that air was moving downwards toward the ground.
"Chemical weapons use in such meteorological conditions
maximizes their potential impact as the heavy gas can stay
close to the ground and penetrate into lower levels of
buildings and constructions where many people were seeking
shelter," it said.
The results of Sellstrom's investigation are not surprising.
Several weeks ago US Secretary of State John Kerry announced
that sarin had been used in the chemical attack on the Ghouta
region. The United States said 1,400 people were killed,
including more than 400 children.
"The United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally
and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in
Syria," Ban told the Security Council.
"This was a grave crime and those responsible must be brought
to justice as soon as possible," he said.
On Friday, Ban said Syrian President Bashar al-Assad "has
committed many crimes against humanity," though he did
specifically blame him for the Ghouta attack. He added that
Assad would be held to account for his crimes.
Syria and Russia have blamed the Aug. 21 attack on the
rebels. The rebels, the United States and other Western
powers blame forces loyal to Assad for the Ghouta attack.
It is not immediately clear whether any of the details in the
report suggested culpability.
Britain, France and the United States all said the UN report
left "no doubt" that Assad government was responsible for the
The investigators studied five impact sites and were able to
determine the likely trajectory of the projectiles at two
sites - Moadamiyah and Ein Tarma.
Eliot Higgins, who blogs under the name of Brown Moses and
has been tracking videos of weapons used in the Syria
conflict, wrote that he has not seen the opposition using the
munitions identified in the report: a variant of the M14
artillery rocket and a 330 mm caliber artillery rocket.
Rebels have seized all kinds of weapons from military depots
across the country in the 2 1/2-year civil war.
But Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at Monterey
Institute, said the Aug. 21 attack bore "so many hallmarks of
a military trained in chemical warfare doctrine" and not an
"Multiple sites, simultaneously targeted. The early morning
hours of the attack are when winds are at their lowest and
temperatures at their coolest - the very conditions conducive
to having toxic gas stay on the target," she told Reuters.
"The Assad government has been in the business of chemical
weapons since the 1970s. They are trained in military
doctrine. They also have chemical delivery systems that the
rebels don't," she said.
Ban told the council that 85 percent of the blood samples
taken by investigators tested positive for sarin and almost
all the biomedical samples tested positive for exposure to
The UN confirmation of sarin gas use on Aug. 21 comes as
France, Britain and the United States agreed in Paris to seek
a "strong and robust" UN resolution that sets binding
deadlines on removal of chemical weapons.
Those talks followed a weekend deal on Syria's chemical
weapons reached by the United States and Russia that could
avert U.S. military action.
Ban urged the Security Council consider ways to ensure
enforcement and compliance with the U.S.-Russia plan. "I
agree there should be consequences for non-compliance. Any
use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, is a crime," he
The United Nations says more than 100,000 people have died in
Syria since March 2011.