Syrian regime to blame for April sarin attack – UN report

Syria rejects report, claims it was compiled under instruction from western countries

A Syrian child receiving treatment at a hospital  following a chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun. Photograph: Mohamed al-Bakour/AFP

A Syrian child receiving treatment at a hospital following a chemical attack in Khan Sheikhun. Photograph: Mohamed al-Bakour/AFP

 

The Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad is to blame for a chemical attack on the opposition-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens of people last April, according to a report sent to the United Nations Security Council on Thursday.

“The Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017,” the report from the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) said.

The attack prompted a US missile strike against a Syrian air base which Washington said was used to launch the strike.

“Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime,” Nikki Haley, the United States’ UN ambassador, said in a statement.

‘Clear message’

“The Security Council must send a clear message that the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated, and must fully support the work of the impartial investigators.”

The Syrian government on Friday rejected the report, state media said.

Syria rejects in form and substance what was included in the report of the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) that was announced yesterday,” state news agency Sana reported, citing an official in Syria’s foreign ministry.

The official said the report had been compiled under instructions from the US and other western countries “to place more political pressure” on Syria, Sana reported.

“[Damascus] condemns the reliance of the Joint Investigative Mechanism on the word of criminals who committed this immoral act in Khan Sheikhoun and those of suspect witnesses, as well as so-called open sources,” a statement by the foreign ministry official said.

The official also said Syria renewed its commitment to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and said it had no chemical materials restricted by the agreement.

Syria considered the use of chemical weapons “an immoral act, condemned everywhere, at any time, under any circumstance,” Sana said.

The report had also said Islamic State was to blame for the use of sulfur mustard in the Syrian town of Umm Hawsh on September 15th and 16th, 2016.

The JIM was unanimously created by the 15-member UN Security Council in 2015 and renewed in 2016 for another year. Its mandate is due to expire in mid-November, and Russia on Tuesday vetoed a proposal to further extend its mandate.

Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia said earlier this week Russia would consider revisiting the mandate extension after Thursday’s report is discussed.

Basis in proof

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China hopes the conclusions of any investigation have a basis in conclusive proof and are professional, objective and fair.

“The continuing use of chemical weapons, including by non-state actors, is deeply disturbing,” said the report.

“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.”

The JIM has already found Syrian government forces were responsible for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015.

Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons in 2013 under a deal brokered by Russia and the US. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons during the country’s more than six-year civil war. –Reuters