UN: Chemical Weapons Used in Syria 'At Least 5 Times'
Chemical weapons have been used at least five times during the Syrian conflict and in some cases children and civilians have been slaughtered, according to a UN report released Thursday and cited by AFP.
The report cites "credible evidence" and "evidence consistent with the probable use of chemical weapons" in the Syrian districts of Ghouta, Khan Al Asal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafieh Sahnaya.
The UN inspectors said they could not corroborate their use in two more of the seven sites studied - Bahhariyeh and Sheik Maqsood.
"The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic," said the report, prepared by a team led by Swedish expert Aake Sellstrom.
However, the report does not attribute blame for the attacks, as this was not part of the mandate given to the team by the UN Security Council.
Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad has admitted his forces hold chemical weapons, and has vowed to surrender them to international experts, but insists his forces did not target civilians.
Western and Arab governments, human rights groups and Syrian rebels accuse the regime of carrying out the attacks. Assad and his allies in Moscow and Tehran blame the rebels.
Sellstrom, who led an investigative mission to Syria, had already provided a preliminary report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 16.
That report concluded that banned chemical weapons had been used on a wide scale.
The final report said the mission "collected clear and convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale" in the Ghouta area of Damascus on August 23, 2013.
The inspectors collected "credible information" corroborating allegations that chemical weapons were used in Khan Al Asal on March 19 against soldiers and civilians, reported AFP.
The report, presented to Ban by Sellstrom on Thursday, has been distributed to Security Council members. The panel is expected to take it up on Monday.
"The United Nations Mission remains deeply concerned that chemical weapons were used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arabic Republic, which has added yet another dimension to the continued suffering of the Syrian people," the report said.
In September, Russia dismissed the first UN report on Syria’s chemical weapons and said it has received evidence of the use of chemical weapons by Syrian rebels. Moscow at the time called the UN report "politicized and one-sided."
In response, the UN said that “the terrible facts speak for themselves" and Ban said he had the "fullest confidence" in the team.
Meanwhile, the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) continues.
The plan to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile is a joint Russian-U.S. Syrian chemical plan that was endorsed by the UN Security Council in September.
The resolution was a last-minute measure to prevent an American strike on Syria in retaliation for the chemical weapons attack in August.