The long-awaited United Nations report on the deadly Aug. 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus does not directly blame either the Syrian government or the Syrian opposition, but the scrupulous level of detail in the report provides new evidence pointing to a military-orchestrated assault rather than a rebel-executed chemical weapons attack.
The U.N. inspectors' report, which was presented to the Security Council, found "clear and convincing evidence" that rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ghouta suburbs of Damascus. The U.N. team compiled evidence from a broad range of sources, including several surface-to-surface rockets "capable of delivering significant chemical payloads" and statements from more than 50 victims, first responders, and medical specialists. Evidence of sarin was identified in the majority of environmental and biomedical samples, including blood, urine, and hair, collected by the U.N. team.
The lethally of the attack, the report noted, was exacerbated by the morning chill on Aug. 21, which contributed to pressing the air downward, where it poured into residential homes and basements, killing people in their sleep.
The combination of the report's weapons data (rockets designed for liquid-fill delivery and traces of sarin found on the rockets), the significant number of rockets fired, and the way the weapons were used (at a time of day when stable atmospheric conditions were expected to maximize the effect of the chemical attack) speaks volumes. That all points to a weapon that came from a military program, used by units that understand and have training in chemical warfare operations.
If an opposition group had been the perpetrator, it would have required: (A) readiness to kill large numbers of people in an opposition-controlled area, (B) access to a significant number of chemical weapons rockets from a Syrian army stockpile, and (C) some training in how and when to use chemical weapons to maximum effect.
Russia, however, has shied away from drawing such conclusions. According to Moscow government sources: Russia has evidence suggesting that Assad himself did not issue orders for a poison gas attack -- and that the evidence implicates the rebels instead. Now Damascus has reportedly presented to Russia additional evidence regarding the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The evidence was handed over to Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov, who met Syrian Foreign Minister and President Bashar Assad in Damascus.
Russia Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov didn’t describe further the evidence Damascus had presented, although it apparently is meant to prove that rebel forces have access to chemical weapons and used it in the conflict. He, however, criticized the UN report, saying that Russia is disappointed with its “biased” and “politicized” nature.
"We are unhappy about this report, we think that report was distorted, it was one-sided, the basis of information upon which it is built is not sufficient, and in any case we would need to learn and know more on what happened beyond and above that incident of August 21," Ryabkov said.
The report released by the UN weapons inspectors on Monday is full of minutely documented details on what they found during their investigation into the massacre that activists and the United States say killed more than 1,400 people on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21. The 38-page report, presented "with a heavy heart" to the Security Council by UN General Secretary Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday, confirms "unequivocally and objectively" that significant quantities of chemical weapons were deployed against Syrian civilians.
It is an assessment that the world had long been waiting for. It solidifies the foundation of the agreement recently reached between the US and Russia to eliminate Syria's stockpiles of chemical weapons. And it will provide new impetus to the negotiations aimed at the formulation of a UN Security Council resolution to address the use of chemical weapons in the country.
The next thing the Security Council will do is discuss a possible resolution that anchors the agreement made in Geneva. But these talks could take some time. The annual UN General Assembly meeting will be held in New York next week, drawing dozens of leaders from around the world, including US President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, French President François Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Separate meetings to address the Syria issue are to be held on the sidelines of the larger meeting.
The talks will have to address disagreements on several key points. For example, should the UN resolution threaten Syria with the kind of military action that the US is demanding, but that Russia is opposed to? Should the Assad regime be brought before the International Court of Justice in The Hague? Likewise, it is still completely unclear exactly how Syria's chemical arsenal is supposed to be secured, monitored and disposed of.
By Guylain Gustave Moke