independent

Thursday 17 April 2014

UN's report on Syria 'damning'

William Hague, French president Francois Hollande, US secretary of state John Kerry and French foreign minister Laurent Fabius in Paris (AP)

A report by UN weapons inspectors into the atrocity in Damascus is "damning" and "fully consistent" with Britain's assessment that Bashar Assad's regime was behind the attack, William Hague said.

The Foreign Secretary spoke out after UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon presented what he said was "overwhelming and indisputable" proof that chemical weapons were used on a large scale. Although the team was not mandated to establish who was responsible for the use of the banned weapons, Mr Hague said their findings backed the West's claims it was government forces.

"This report, which we are analysing in detail, is clearly very damning," Mr Hague said. "It confirms that there was indeed a large-scale chemical weapons attack on the areas east of Damascus in the early hours of August 21. It confirms that this was an attack against civilians, against children and a large number of people were killed and it is fully consistent with everything we have always argued about this attack - that sarin was used, that it was on a large scale."

He added: "We have always believed that this was the work, the responsibility of the Assad regime and everything we can see in this report is fully consistent with that."

Mr Hague said he was "hopeful" of an international deal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons but warned it would be a hugely challenging process. He and French counterpart Laurent Fabius were briefed in Paris by US secretary of state John Kerry earlier on his deal with Russia for the international community to take control of the regime's stockpile.

"Yes we are hopeful, but very mindful of all the difficulties of identifying and securing probably the largest arsenal of chemical weapons in the world, in a country that is a contested battlefield," Mr Hague said. "No-one should underestimate the challenge of that."

Presenting the report, Mr Ban said: "The results are overwhelming and indisputable. The facts speak for themselves," he said. They had "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 said: "The United Nations 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."

Environmental, chemical and medical samples collected in the aftermath of the assault last month on a rebel-held Damascus suburb which is estimated to have killed up to 1,400 people show that rockets deployed in the attack contained nerve gas sarin, the team has reported.

Prime Minister David Cameron said the report was "chilling". "No-one can ignore facts," he wrote on Twitter. "100s gassed in worst attack since Halabja. UNSG right: we must destroy chemical weapons."

Press Association

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