September 17, 2013

UN confirms chemical weapons used in Syria

The rockets containing sarin gas appear to have come from Qassioun Mountain, where the Syrian military is known to have bases.

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)

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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)

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In the report, Sellstrom said the team was issuing the findings on the Ghouta attacks "without prejudice" to its continuing investigation and final report on the alleged use of chemical weapons in three other areas. Ban said he expects the inspectors to return to Syria "as soon as possible" to complete their investigation.

Under an Aug. 13 agreement between the U.N. and the Syrian government, Sellstrom's team was scheduled to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack on March 19 on the village of Khan al Assal outside Aleppo and alleged attacks on two other sites that were kept secret for security reasons. The inspectors' report for the first time identified the two sites still to be investigated as Sheik Maqsood and Saraqueb.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his French and British counterparts worked on a two-pronged approach to Syria: They called for enforceable U.N. benchmarks for eradicating the chemical weapons program and an international conference bolstering the moderate opposition.

An agreement reached with the Russians calls for an inventory of Syria's chemical weapons program within one week, with all components of the program out of the country or destroyed by mid-2014.

The next step must be a decision by the executive committee of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which implements the convention that Syria has agreed to join, to endorse the U.S.-Russian agreement. The OPCW is based in The Hague, Netherlands, and it isn't certain when it will meet, although several diplomats said probably later this week.

Once the OPCW approves the agreement, the Security Council must adopt a resolution endorsing both the U.S.-Russian agreement and the OPCW decision.

"This resolution needs to enshrine the OPCW decision in legally binding form, because the OPCW does not have the ability to impose legally binding obligations," Britain's Lyall Grant said.

France and the U.S. insisted that a military response to the Aug. 21 attack remained on the table, and were pressing for a U.N. resolution reflecting that.

"It has to be strong, it has to be forceful, it has to be real, it has to be accountable, it has to be transparent, it has to be timely. All of those things are critical. And it has to be enforced," Kerry said.

"We will not tolerate avoidance or anything less than full compliance by the Assad regime," he added.

Kerry said the agreement "fully commits the United States and Russia to impose measures under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter in the event of non-compliance." Chapter 7 resolutions allow for military enforcement.

Lavrov said Chapter 7 was the subject of "fierce debate" during the talks but stressed that "the final document ... doesn't mention it" and that the Security Council resolution being negotiated will not be under Chapter 7.

He said if Syria fails to cooperate, the Security Council can pass an entirely different resolution "which may employ Chapter 7." Lavrov stressed that ongoing attempts to threaten the use of force against Syria would provoke the opposition and disrupt a chance for peace negotiations in Geneva that the U.S. and Russia have been trying to organize.

The Syrian National Coalition — the main umbrella opposition group — welcomed the inspectors' report and urged the Security Council to hold the Assad regime responsible for the Aug. 21 attack and refer the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court for prosecution.

Gen. Salim Idris, head of the rebel Free Syrian Army, said in an interview on the PBS NewsHour that the inspectors' report makes "very clear that there's a war crime."

He said the Syrian people "are very frustrated because of what's going on and because the international community is not caring anymore about the victims."

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The regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad insists that the Aug. 21 chemical attack was carried out by rebels.

AP

  


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