UN chief accuses Assad of 'crimes against humanity'
Report will show 'clear evidence of gas attack'
Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations secretary-general, has accused Bashar Assad of committing crimes against humanity as he said a UN report next week would provide "overwhelming" confirmation that chemical weapons had been used in Syria.
Mr Ban did not say that Syrian government forces had carried out the suspected chemical arms attack near Damascus last month that was investigated by UN experts, but chose to point out that the Syrian leader had "committed many crimes against humanity".
"Therefore, I'm sure that there will be surely the process of accountability when everything is over," he said, in remarks that will increase the pressure on the Syrian regime and could even hamper high-level negotiations.
A UN team is expected to send its report on the August 21 attack to Mr Ban on Monday. He stressed that he still did not have the report, but predicted: "I believe the report will be an overwhelming report that the chemical weapons were used."
He also gave a UN estimate that 1,400 people were killed in the attack at Ghouta, east of Damascus.
The secretary-general apparently thought his speech to the Women's International Forum and response to questions were not being broadcast, but they were shown on UN television.
The US, Britain and France blame the Syrian leader's forces for the attack.
Damascus, backed by Russia, says opposition rebels used a banned gas.
In a report yesterday, Human Rights Watch accused Syrian government forces and pro-regime militias of carrying out mass killings of at least 248 people in two predominantly Sunni Muslim towns along the Mediterranean in May.
The New York-based group said its report on the killings in Bayda and Banias on May 2 and 3 was based on accounts of witnesses who saw or heard government and pro-government forces detain and then kill their relations.
It said 167 people were killed in Bayda and 81 in Banias. The two towns are largely populated by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the revolt against Assad.
Meanwhile, Russia and the United States yesterday declared that a breakthrough on Syria's chemical weapons could revive attempts at ending the civil war, as the two sides sought to narrow their differences on the second day of talks.
John Kerry said discussions with Russia about putting Syrian weapons under international control to avert US air strikes had been "constructive".
After a summit with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations special envoy, Mr Kerry said the date for Geneva II – a much delayed conference on Syria – would be set at their next meeting on September 28.
"We are committed to trying to work together, beginning with this initiative on the chemical weapons, in hopes that those efforts could pay off and bring peace and stability to a war-torn part of the world," he said. (©Daily Telegraph, London)