UNITED NATIONS (AFP) – The United Nations revealed what it called “chilling” details of a sarin gas attack in Syria, leaving the major powers to battle over who was responsible.
UN chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria as ” a war crime” as the country’s conflict again spilled into neighboring nations, with Turkey saying it had shot down a Syrian military helicopter.
UN experts said they had gathered “clear and convincing evidence” that surface-to-surface rockets took sarin gas into the opposition-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta on August 21.
The United States, which had threatened a military strike on Syria over the attack, says more than 1,400 people were killed in Ghouta.
Ban said the report prepared by the experts “makes for chilling reading.”
He added that the use of sarin had been proved “unequivocally and objectively” and that the Ghouta attack was “the most significant” with chemical weapons since Saddam Hussein unleashed poison gas in Halabja, Iraq, in 1988, killing thousands.
Ban described how doctors treated civilians with no external signs of injuries in the streets of Ghouta in the hours after the attack and that the weather conditions had maximized the casualties.
“The downward movement of air would have allowed the gas to easily penetrate the basements and lower levels of buildings and other structures where many people were seeking shelter,” Ban said.
“The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used” in Ghouta, said the report by UN inspectors who were in Syria when the attack was staged.
The experts concluded that “chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians including children on a relatively large scale.”
A separate UN-mandated independent human rights inquiry announced separately on Monday that it was investigating 14 alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria.
Ban would not say who had carried out the attack.
“We may all have our own thoughts on this, but I would simply say that this was a grave crime and those responsible must be brought to justice as soon as possible,” Ban told reporters.
On Friday, he said Assad has “committed many crimes against humanity.”
The United States, Britain and France all insisted that the report shows Assad’s forces had used the weapons.
The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, highlighted the use of a 122mm rocket, which she said only government forces had.
She also pointed to the “high quality” sarin used in the attack.