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Sarin gas used in Syria on wide scale, confirms UN report

By Prakash M Swamy
Last updated on: September 17, 2013 00:00 IST
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United Nations chemical investigators on Monday confirmed "unequivocally and objectively" that poisonous sarin gas was used in the ongoing conflict in Syria on a "relatively large scale".

The investigators, however, were silent on who carried out a deadly attack in the suburbs of Damascus on August 21 that reportedly killed hundreds.

"This is a war crime," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said as he submitted a report of the UN team investigating the chemical weapons attacks "with a heavy heart".

He also condemned the chemical weapon attacks.

"The UN Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria. This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary international law. I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable crime.”

"The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable and to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare," Ban said briefing the UN Security Council on the report.

Ban also called on the UNSC to impose "consequences" if the embattled regime in Syria fails to keep its promise to destroy chemical arsenal.

"The mission has concluded that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale in the Ghouta area of Damascus (on 21 August)... The attack resulted in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians," Ban told a closed meeting of the 15-nation UNSC.

"The Mission adhered to the most stringent protocols available for such an investigation, including to ensure the chain of custody for all samples." The team interviewed survivors and first responders, and collected hair, urine and blood samples.

"The Mission also documented and sampled impact sites and munitions, and collected 30 soil and environmental samples -- far more than any previous such UN investigation," Ban said.

Ban's remarks came two days after the US and Russia agreed a plan to destroy Syria's chemical arms by mid-2014.

The report submitted by the UN inspectors probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria at 14 instances was submitted to Ban earlier.

"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" on 21 August, said the report which was inadvertently leaked.

The first page of the report was inadvertently shown in an official picture in which UN team leader Ake Sellstrom was handing the findings to Ban at the UN Headquarters.

Syrian opposition and the West have accused President Bashar Al-Assad's forces of using chemical weapons on August 21 in a Damascus suburb that reportedly killed hundreds, a charge denied by the government.

The government instead blamed the rebels for carrying out chemical attacks in Damascus and other parts of the country during the over two and half year long civil war that has left more than 100,000 people dead and forced millions to leave the country.

Image: Children, affected by what activists say was a gas attack, breathe through oxygen masks in the Damascus suburb of Saqba

Photograph: Bassam Khabieh/Reuters

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