UN certain chemical weapons used in Syria, US agrees, Russia dissents

UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.
UN SG Ban shares remarks on the chemical weapons report.

The much anticipated report from United Nations chemical weapons inspectors in Syria was finally released on Monday. The group’s findings pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by Syrian armed forces. The US and UN made strong statements about Syria’s use of the weapons. Russia is again the dissenter.

However, the Syrian government is not directly assigned blame. Rather the information provided in the report strongly indicates that the attacks were carried out by Syrian government troops.

“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent Sarin were used,” conclude the inspectors.

The attack was deadlier that it may have otherwise been due to the fact that it was launched in the cooler morning. The report says that air moving down to the ground made it easier for the gas to spread once deployed and more easily enter the lower levels of buildings.

People who were at the scene of the attacks told the inspectors that they experienced symptoms ranging from blurred vision and shortness of breath to vomiting and loss of consciousness. Those that ran to help described people laying on the ground dead or unconscious. They too began to experience some of the effects of the nerve agent.

US ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said there is no doubt that chemical weapons were used in Syria on August 21.

“The technical details of the UN report make clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack. We will analyze the UN’s findings in greater detail, very carefully,” she said to the press.

Symptoms and signs of survivors
Symptoms and signs of survivors

While Power was careful with her words and said that the US would take more time to analyze the findings, UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon was clear in his assessment.

“The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale,” he said in a prepared statement.

“This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary international law. It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 — and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.”

John Hudson and Colum Lynch reached out to other experts who confirmed that the findings pointed towards a chemical weapons attack carried out by Syrian troops. That is not the shared view of Russia the two report in Foreign Policy.

The Russians were not eager to draw this conclusion. Moscow’s U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said that his country “strongly condemns” the use of such weapons but cautioned that others should “not to jump to any conclusion.” He scolded his Western counterparts, saying, “Some colleagues jumped to their conclusions when they were saying the [U.N.] report definitely proves that it was the government forces who used chemical weapons.”

Churkin also deflected questions about the inspectors finding that some of the Syrian artillery rounds used in the attack bore inscriptions in Cyrillic, which could be a mark of Russian manufacture. He said that the U.N. needed to have chemical weapons experts “look into it,” among several other questions.

Meanwhile, talks between the US, Russia and Syria over the seizure of the chemical weapons continue. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the US and Russia were not on the same page for how to proceed. He told a state-run news agency that the deal will not be done under the UN’s Chapter VII, a measure that would allow for the use of force.

Power confirmed also hearing that Assad planned on attending next week’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) in New York City. She said that he should instead turn himself in to the International Criminal court where he is indicted (but the US does not participate).

There may be an opportunities for representatives from Russia, Syria and the US to meet during the UNGA. The continued buzz and the recent report point towards Syria dominating the happenings in Turtle Bay.

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Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]humanosphere.org.