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UN confirms gas 'war crime' in Syria
From: BBC          Published On: September 16, 2013, 16:56 GMT
 
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UN confirms gas 'war crime' in Syria

The UN based its report on samples collected after the attack


The UN has confirmed "unequivocally and objectively" that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.

A UN report says sarin gas was used in a rocket attack in the Syrian capital, Damascus, last month, although it has not attributed blame.

"This is a war crime," Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said.

US allegations that the government was responsible led to threats of military action and then a US-Russia deal for Syria to make safe its chemical arms.

World powers will now try to hammer out a UN Security Council resolution.

Earlier, UN investigators said they were probing 14 alleged chemical attacks in Syria since September 2011.

Meanwhile, Turkey said it had shot down a Syrian helicopter close to its border. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the aircraft was engaged by fighter jets after violating Turkish air space.

'Despicable crime'

Mr Ban has been briefing the Security Council on the report, and is then expected to address the media.

He said he was submitting the UN mission's report "with a heavy heart".

"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."

Mr Ban spoke of the suffering of the victims.

"Survivors reported that following an attack with shelling, they quickly experienced a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness.

"Many eventually lost consciousness. First responders described seeing a large number of individuals lying on the ground, many of them dead or unconscious."

The UN investigators examined many samples from the scene.

Mr Ban said: "On the basis of its analysis, the mission concluded that it - and I quote - 'collected clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus.'"

Mr Ban added: "I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable crime. The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable."

He said the mission was unable to verify the number of casualties, but referred to the "terrible loss of life on 21 August".

Mr Ban added: "This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988."

Assigning blame for the attack in Ghouta was not part of the inspectors' remit.

However, diplomats have suggested the way the facts are reported may point to the Syrian government as the perpetrators.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied allegations his government was behind the attack, instead blaming the rebels.

Earlier, Paulo Pinheiro, the chairman of the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said the commission had been investigating 14 alleged chemical attacks since it began monitoring Syrian human rights abuses in September 2011.

Mr Pinheiro said investigators had not so far been able to assign blame and were awaiting details from Monday's UN report.

He said the commission believed both President Assad's government and the rebels were responsible for war crimes, but that the regime alone had perpetrated crimes against humanity.

War crimes, including mass executions, rape and torture, were continuing, the commission said.

Its investigators said a referral to the International Criminal Court was imperative.

'Transparent and timely'

French President Francois Hollande and his Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius earlier met British Foreign Secretary William Hague and US Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis.

The meeting follows the deal brokered at the weekend by Russia and the US under which Syria will disclose its chemical weapons within a week and eliminate them by mid-2014.

The US, UK and France said they were seeking a "strong" UN resolution with "serious consequences" if Syria failed to hand over its chemical arsenal, along with a "precise timetable" for dismantling it.

The UN Security Council is expected to draft a resolution in the coming days.

Mr Kerry said the resolution had to be "forceful, accountable, transparent and timely".

He said that all the countries involved, including Russia, had agreed that military intervention could be an option "should diplomacy fail".

"The framework fully commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter VII of the UN charter in the event of non-compliance."

Chapter VII permits military action if other measures do not succeed.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said any calls for swift UN action against Mr Assad showed a "lack of understanding" of the chemical weapons deal reached with Syria.

Mr Lavrov said: "Yes, our American colleagues would very much like there to be a Chapter VII resolution. But the final declaration, the final document that we approved and which has the guiding principles for how we proceed and for our mutual obligations, makes no mention of it."


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