UK, US, France: UN report leaves 'no doubt' on Assad chemical weapons

Russian UN envoy urges colleagues not to "jump to any conclusions."

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and British FM (photo credit: Reuters)
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry (R) and British FM
(photo credit: Reuters)
Britain, France and the United States moved quickly to repeat their accusations against the Syria regime Monday, after a United Nations investigation found that chemical weapons had definitely been used in the country in an August 21 attack on the outskirts of Damascus.
UN chief Ban Ki-Moon declined to identify those responsible for the attack, which the US says killed more than 1,400 people, including women and children, but said that the attack constituted a war crime.
"This is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja [in Iraq] in 1988," UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said. "The international community has pledged to prevent any such horror from recurring, yet it has happened again."
British, French and US envoys told reporters that the UN report left no doubt that Syria President Bashar Assad's government was responsible for the chemical attack, while Russian UN envoy Vitaly Churkin countered that there was no scientific proof government forces were responsible for the sarin attack.
Syria and Russia have blamed the August 21 attack on the rebels. The rebels, the United States and other Western powers blame forces loyal to Assad for the Ghouta attack.
It is not immediately clear whether any of the details in the report suggested culpability.
"We need to not jump to any conclusions," Churkin said.
British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said the rocket samples examined had a payload of 350 liters, which was 35 times the amount used in the Tokyo subway attack in 1995.
"In response to a question Mr Sellstrom confirmed that the quality of the sarin was superior both to that used in the Tokyo subway but also to that used by Iraq during the Iraq-Iran war," he told reporters.
"This does not point to a cottage industry chemical," said Lyall Grant, taking a swipe at earlier comments by Churkin. Churkin said in July that a Moscow analysis found "cottage industry" quality sarin gas was used in an alleged March 19 attack, which he blamed on the rebels.
The investigators studied five impact sites and were able to determine the likely trajectory of the projectiles at two sites: Moadamiyah and Ein Tarma.
Eliot Higgins, who blogs under the name of Brown Moses and has been tracking videos of weapons used in the Syria conflict, wrote that he has not seen the opposition using the munitions identified in the report: a variant of the M14 artillery rocket and a 330 mm caliber artillery rocket.
Rebels have seized all kinds of weapons from military depots across the country in the 2 1/2-year civil war that has killed over 100,000 people, according to the United Nations.
But Amy Smithson, a chemical weapons expert at Monterey Institute, said the Aug. 21 attack bore "so many hallmarks of a military trained in chemical warfare doctrine" and not an untrained force.
"The Assad government has been in the business of chemical weapons since the 1970s. They are trained in military doctrine. They also have chemical delivery systems that the rebels don't," she said.
The UN confirmation of sarin gas use on August 21 comes as France, Britain and the United States agreed in Paris to seek a "strong and robust" UN resolution that sets binding deadlines on removal of chemical weapons.
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Those talks followed a weekend deal on Syria's chemical weapons reached by the United States and Russia that could avert US military action.
Ban urged the Security Council consider ways to ensure enforcement and compliance with the US-Russia plan. "I agree there should be consequences for non-compliance. Any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, is a crime," he said.