Saturday, March 8, 2014
The Associated Press
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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry waves a goodbye to Saudi foreign minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal Bin Abdul Aziz, unseen, in his car, right, following their working lunch in a Paris restaurant, Monday Sept. 16, 2013. The U.S. and its closest allies laid out a two-pronged approach in Syria on Monday, calling for enforceable U.N. benchmarks for eradicating the country's chemical weapons program and an international conference bolstering the moderate opposition. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere)
Black columns of smoke from heavy shelling in Barzeh, a suburb of Damascus, Syria, Friday, Aug. 23, 2013. U.N. inspectors reported Monday, Sept. 16, 2013 'indisputable' evidence that rockets loaded with the nerve agent sarin had been fired from an area where Syria's military has bases. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
The U.N. report did not mention how many people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack. The U.S. says more than 1,400, but other death toll estimates have been far lower.
The report cited the following evidence to support its conclusions:
— Rockets and fragments were found to contain sarin. "Several surface-to-surface rockets capable of delivering significant chemical payloads were identified and recorded at the investigated sites," the investigators said.
— Close to the impact sites, in the area where people were affected, inspectors collected 30 soil and environmental samples — far more than any previous U.N. investigation — and in a majority of the samples, "the environment was found to be contaminated by sarin," its by-products, and "other relevant chemicals, such as stabilizers."
— Blood, urine and hair samples from 34 patients who had signs of poisoning by a chemical compound provided "definitive evidence of exposure to sarin by almost all of the survivors assessed."
— More than 50 interviews with survivors and health care workers "provided ample corroboration of the medical and scientific results."
"The large-scale use of sarin, the direction of the rocket attacks, and kind of rockets used in the attacks all point to use by Assad's forces beyond reasonable doubt," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
"The conclusions reached by the United States and European governments would now appear to have received corroboration by a source the Russians and Syrians will have trouble discrediting," Kimball said.
The inspectors described the rockets used to disperse the sarin as a variant of an M14 artillery rocket, with either an original or an improvised warhead. The report said the rockets that hit two of the suburbs — Zamalka and Ein Tarma — were fired from the northwest, but it didn't say who launched them.
The inspectors did not provide a location for the rockets' launch site, but Qassioun Mountain, where the Syrian military is known to have bases, is roughly northwest of both suburbs.
"This was no cottage industry use of chemical weapons," Britain's U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said.
"To put it in perspective, just on those rocket samples that they were able to examine, they had a payload of a total of 350 liters, which is 35 times the amount that was used in the Tokyo subway" in 1995, he said, adding that the inspectors also confirmed "that the quality of the sarin was superior" both to that used in Tokyo and also to what was used by Iraq against Iran.
U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power noted that chief inspector Ake Sellstrom said the weapons "were professionally made."
"It defies logic that the opposition would have infiltrated the regime-controlled area to fire on opposition-controlled areas," she said. "Only the regime could have carried out this large-scale attack."
But Churkin wondered why there were no reports of casualties among opposition fighters if government forces fired rockets filled with sarin to try to oust opposition groups from the area.
"Is it theoretically possible to fire five or six rockets and miss your opponent?" he asked.
The inspectors cautioned that the five sites they investigated had been "well- traveled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the mission."
"During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated," the report said. The areas were under rebel control, but the report did not elaborate on who the individuals were.
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The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad insists that the Aug. 21 chemical attack was carried out by rebels.