By Greg Thielmann and Daryl G. Kimball
The evidence in the United Nations inspectors’ report on the use of chemical weapons in Syria released today — particularly the findings on the munitions and their trajectory – provides additional and substantial evidence that Assad’s forces were responsible for a large-scale attack involving rockets armed with Sarin nerve gas in the Damascus suburbs on August 21.
The report further documents numerous casualties from Sarin poisoning, particularly among civilians and including many children. The conclusions are based on environmental, chemical, and medical samples collected by inspectors at three sites of the attack on August 26, 28-29.
The UN report also provides more detail on the facts behind the conclusions than contained in the public reports released individually by the U.S., British, and French governments, but these details substantiate the previous findings.
The most significant new information appears to be the definitive evidence of Sarin in the rocket fragments and the blood and urine samples from patients. Descriptions of the 140 mm and 330 mm rockets used in the attack are largely consistent with the previous report of Human Rights Watch, but the meticulous calculations from the UN inspectors provide azimuth information for two of the rockets, which indicate the attack came from government controlled-areas to the west and northwest.
Determining which party in the conflict launched the attacks fell outside the mandate of the UN team. However, the additional details and the perceived objectivity of the inspectors buttress the assignment of blame to Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian government.
The large scale use of Sarin, the direction of the rocket attacks, and kind of rockets used in the attacks all point to use by Assad’s forces beyond reasonable doubt. The conclusions reached by the United States and European governments would now appear to have received corroboration by a source the Russians and Syrians will have trouble discrediting.
The UN report underscores the professionalism of the UN inspectors and the value for the international community of their involvement in investigating allegations of CW use.
It is now imperative that the UN Security Council approve a resolution mandating the implementation of the very comprehensive September 14 U.S.-Russian plan for Syrian chemical weapons demilitarization. The Council must also make it clear that there will be serious consequences if Assad flagrantly violates or delays its implementation.