Analysis of Syrian attack evidence to take ‘up to three weeks’
Evidence of suspected chemical weapons attack to undergo laboratory analysis and technical evaluation
A car carrying UN weapons inspectors who gathered evidence and samples relating to alleged chemical weapons use in Syria enters the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons building in The Hague. Photograph: Reuters/Phil Nijhuis
Analysis of evidence collected by UN chemical weapons inspectors following the attack in Syria on August 21st which the US alleges killed 1,429 people, including at least 426 children, will take “up to three weeks”, according to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The 13 inspectors left Damascus by road for the Lebanese capital, Beirut, on Saturday and arrived back in the Netherlands by German government jet the same evening to deliver their samples to OPCW headquarters in The Hague, where technical experts were on standby.
Dr Ake Sellström, the Swedish scientist who led the inspection team in Syria and who has been in constant contact with UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon and disarmament chief Angela Kane, went straight into talks with OPCW director general Ahmet Üzümcü to discuss the handling of the evidence.
Afterwards a brief statement from the OPCW said: “The evidence collected by the team will now undergo laboratory analysis and technical evaluation. These procedures may take up to three weeks for completion in a systematic, orderly and objective manner.”
Although the OPCW has been granted some breathing space by US president Barack Obama’s surprise announcement that he will call a vote in Congress over military action, the statement added: “Every effort will be made to expedite this process.”
Their mandate instructed the inspectors – a combination of chemical weapons and medical experts – to ascertain whether or not chemical weapons, particularly nerve gas, had been deployed in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21st. However, it did not authorise any attempt either to establish who carried out the attack or to apportion blame.
The OPCW said that once the analysis was completed, the findings would be handed by Dr Sellström to Mr Ban, whose spokesman said the OPCW was now “uniquely capable of establishing in an impartial and credible manner the facts of any chemical weapons used, based on evidence from the ground”.