The UN inspection team found “clear and convincing evidence” that sarin was used on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta nearly a month ago, prompting Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to call the attack a “war crime.”
Ban was briefed Monday on the report that found “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in [Syria], also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.”
The chemical weapons team also confirmed other smaller attacks before the Aug. 21 one, finding “clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-air rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah, and Zamalka.”
Eighty-five percent of blood samples taken from sites in Ghouta tested positive for sarin, as did the majority of the rocket fragments collected. The team assessed more than 50 survivors, medical personnel and first responders.
“The results are overwhelming and indisputable. The facts speak for themselves. The United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria,” Ban told reporters. “There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons. Any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, is a crime. But our message today must be more than ‘do not slaughter your people with gas.’ There must also be no impunity for the crimes being committed with conventional weapons.”
“It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility. We may all have our own thoughts on this, but I would simply say that this was a grave crime and those responsible must be brought to justice as soon as possible,” Ban added.
UN Ambassador Susan Rice said the report “adds even more evidence to what we have already concluded – that sarin was used by the Syrian regime on a large scale on August 21 in the suburbs of Damascus.”
“Although the team’s mandate was not to determine who was responsible for these heinous attacks, the technical evidence included in the report and in today’s briefing by the U.N. – including the statement that the sarin was high-quality and that a particular type of rocket was used in the attack – reinforces our assessment that these attacks were carried out by the Syrian regime, as only they had the capability to mount an attack in this manner,” Rice said. “We deeply appreciate the thorough work of Dr. Ake Sellstrom and his team, who carried out this difficult mission at significant personal risk.”
“This weekend’s talks in Geneva developed a framework that could bring about the elimination of Syrian chemical weapons in a transparent, expeditious, and verifiable manner, which would end the threat these weapons pose to the Syrian people, the region and the world,” she continued. “We will continue working urgently with Russia, the United Kingdom, France, the United Nations, the OPCW, and others to ensure that this process is verifiable, and that there are consequences should the Assad regime not comply with the framework agreed. And, if diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act.”
Yesterday, President Obama waived certain restrictions under the Arms Export Control Act to provide or license certain non-lethal assistance inside or related to Syria.
“This includes: 1) chemical weapons-related personal protective equipment to international organizations, including the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, for the conduct of their operations; 2) chemical weapons-related life-saving assistance for organizations implementing Department of State or U.S. Agency for International Development programs to strengthen local Syrian health care providers’ ability to prepare for and respond to any use of chemical weapons; and 3) defensive chemical weapons-related training and personal protective equipment to select vetted members of the Syrian opposition, including the Supreme Military Council, to protect against the use of chemical weapons,” National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement. “This action is part of longstanding and ongoing efforts to provide life-saving chemical weapons-related assistance to people in need in Syria.”