'Chilling' UN probe finds sarin gas used on Syrian civilians
THE United Nations has denounced a "war crime" in Syria after a "chilling" investigation found that sarin nerve gas was used against "civilians including children" in three rebel-held suburbs of Damascus.
It was the biggest attack with chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein gassed the Kurdish town of Halabja 25 years ago, the UN confirmed.
At the insistence of Syria's regime, the UN mission, which investigated the attacks on August 21, was forbidden from identifying the perpetrator. It did, however, uncover evidence – including the precise weapons used in the assault – which implicates Bashar al-Assad's regime, according to experts.
Presenting the investigation to the Security Council yesterday, Ban Ki-Moon, the UN secretary general, voiced "profound shock and regret at the conclusion that chemical weapons were used on a relatively large scale, resulting in numerous casualties".
Mr Ban said the "chilling" report had presented "overwhelming and indisputable evidence" of a "war crime". No one had used poison gas on this scale since Hussein in 1988, he added. But Mr Ban declined to apportion blame, saying: "It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility."
The United States has said more than 1,400 people died in Ghouta. Its subsequent threat of a military strike has eased following the agreement of a plan with Russia to remove Syria's chemical weapons stock, estimated at 1,000 tonnes.
The UN experts' report will now become a key weapon in a Security Council battle over what degree of threat should be made against Assad to make him disarm.
The UN inspectors, led by Professor Ake Sellstrom, were in Damascus when the attacks took place.
They visited three suburbs and concluded that all suffered bombardment by "surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin".
Many had been asleep when the rockets fell between 2am and 5am, dispersing their toxic cargo. Local weather conditions, with temperatures falling, made the attacks still more deadly.
Instead of rising into the sky, the gas stayed "close to the ground" and penetrated "lower levels of buildings", including the basements where people often slept for shelter.
The UN mission did not compile a death toll, saying only that the "relatively large-scale" attack happened "against civilians, including children".
It has also been reported that nearly half the rebel fighters in Syria are now aligned to jihadist or hardline Islamist groups, according to a new analysis of factions in the country's civil war. (© Daily Telegraph, London)