UN-OPCW investigators ‘confident’ Damascus is to blame for April sarin attack
The new UN-sponsored report by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), conducted by the Joint Investigation Mission (JIM), supported the initial findings which blamed Syria’s Air Force for deploying sarin in the Syrian town, according to media reports.
JIM said it “is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Shaykhun,” AP and AFP reported citing key findings and conclusions they have "seen." The report’s authors also allegedly asserted that the “sarin was delivered via an aerial bomb that was dropped by an airplane.”
Russia's Permanent Mission to the UN voiced concern that cherry-picked details of the findings, which are yet to be made public, were already circulating in the media.
“We are surprised by the fact that direct quotations from this internal UNSC document are being reproduced by some Western news agencies,” the Russian mission said, confirming that JIM circulated the document in the UN Security Council.
“We have started a thorough study of this paper, which is of very complex technical nature,” the statement said. “Such work should be conducted with the involvement of relevant specialists from various departments.”
The new report seemingly echoes the initial findings by the joint mission released in June, as well as remote investigations conducted by the US, France and Britain which immediately blamed Damascus for carrying out the chemical attack.
The US has welcomed the conclusions, saying the latest report further “confirms what we have long known to be true,” UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said. “In spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now.”
Russia and Syria have long questioned the previous report’s findings, noting, that the investigating team never actually visited the site of the alleged attack, but relied on the evidence and samples collected by militant groups controlling the area. The ‘experts’ also failed to inspect the Shayrat Airbase, which was struck by a barrage of US cruise missiles just days after the chemical incident.
Upon reviewing the collected evidence and data, Moscow said it tends to believes that the incident could have been staged; and that the deadly chemical agent was detonated on the ground and not on impact from a Syrian airstrike.
Noting the rather small crater left after the alleged Syrian bombing, Russia further questioned the symptoms displayed by victims in the footage from the scene. Noticing dilated pupils amongst the alleged victims, Russian authorities pointed out that if sarin agent was used, their eyes instead would substantially contract.
The Khan Shaykhun chemical attack happened on April 4, 2017, an area of the Idlib Governorate that was under the control of Tahrir al-Sham, better known as the Al-Nusra Front terrorist group.
The sarin gas release, which reportedly claimed the lives of between 74-100 civilians, happened after the town was struck by the Syrian Air Force. Damascus said it targeted the terrorists using only conventional weapons.
On Wednesday Russia blocked a UN Security Council (UNSC) draft resolution on the extension of the OPCW-UN mission’s mandate, emphasizing that a continuation of the decree should be decided only after assessing JIM’s report, as well as the investigative team’s performance, independence, objectivity and professionalism.
Just hours before the report's findings sent the media accusing Damascus into overdrive, the US Secretary of State said President Bashar Assad has no role to play in the future of Syria and that the only question remaining is “how” he should be removed from power.
“The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end. The only issue is how that should that be brought about," Tillerson told reporters following talks with UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura in Geneva, Switzerland. “It is our view and I have said this many times as well that we do not believe that there is a future for the Assad regime and Assad family.”