Experts blame Syria for nerve gas attack in April that killed more than 90
Experts from the UN and the international chemical weapons watchdog are blaming Syria’s government for a sarin nerve gas attack that killed over 90 people last April.
Their report, obtained on Thursday, says leaders of the expert body are “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017”.
The report supports the initial findings by the United States, France and Britain that a Syrian military plane dropped a bomb with sarin on the town.
Syria and Russia, its close ally, have denied any attack and have strongly criticised the Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, which was established by the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to determine responsibility for chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
The attack in Khan Sheikhoun sparked outrage around the world as photos and video of the aftermath, including quivering children dying on camera, were widely broadcast.
The United States blamed the Syrian military and launched a punitive strike days later on the Shayrat airbase, where it said the attack was launched.
Responding to the report, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said: “Today’s report confirms what we have long known to be true. Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime.”
Clearly referring to Russia, she said: “In spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now.”
The Security Council should make it clear that “the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated,” Haley said.
Russia criticised the report, pointing out “inconsistencies”.
“Even the first cursory read shows that many inconsistencies, logical discrepancies, using doubtful witness accounts and unverified evidence... all of this is still [in the report],” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency.
Ryabkov said other nations were seeking to use the report to “resolve their own strategic geopolitical issues in Syria”.
Russia would analyse the findings and publish a response soon, he said.
More than 80 people died on April 4 when sarin gas projectiles were fired into Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria.
Syria and its ally Russia had suggested that a rebel weapon may have detonated on the ground but the UN panel confirmed Western intelligence reports that blamed the regime.
The expert panel’s report came as the United States renewed its warning that Assad has no role in Syria’s future.
A fact-finding mission by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons reported June 30 that sarin was used in the Khan Sheikhoun attack and “sulphur mustard” in Um Hosh. But the JIM experts had the task of determining who conducted the attacks.
The JIM experts said Thursday they are “confident” the Islamic State extremist group was responsible for an attack in Um Hosh in Aleppo on September 15-16, 2016, that used “sulphur mustard,” the chemical weapon commonly known as mustard gas.
In addition to blaming the Syrian government and the IS group, the JIM report says, “The continuing use of chemical weapons, including by non-state actors, is deeply disturbing.”
“If such use, in spite of the prohibition by the international community, is not stopped now, a lack of consequences will surely encourage others to follow – not only in the Syrian Arab Republic but also elsewhere,” it warns. “This is the time to bring these acts to an end.”
The report was issued two days after Russia vetoed a US-sponsored resolution to extend the mandate of the JIM investigators for another year after it expires November 17.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said Moscow wanted to wait for the JIM report. “We can meaningfully negotiate the renewal of JIM after we have seen the report,” he told reporters Thursday before it came out.
Haley said countries that don’t support the JIM experts “are no better than the dictators or terrorists who use these terrible weapons”.
The investigators determined last year that the Syrian government was behind at least three attacks involving chlorine gas and that the Islamic State extremist group was responsible for at least one involving mustard gas.