US slams Damascus as chemical weapons monitor says sarin used in April Syria attack, silent on blame
Members of the UN’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), reviewed the fact-finding mission (FFM) report at The Hague, Netherlands, on Thursday, but it was not released to the public, Reuters reported.
The news outlet obtained a copy of the report that relied on eyewitness interviews and samples previously collected from the site of the alleged chemical attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun. The FFM was reportedly unable to make it to the location in question because of security issues.
“A large number of people, some of whom died, were exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance,” the summary of the report said.
Now the United Nations and OPCW’s Joint Investigative Mechanism, or JIM, goes into effect, to determine responsibility for the use of a banned chemical weapon.
The US State Department released a seemingly contradictory statement in response to the FFM, first noting that the FFM would be handed over to the JIM, in order "to determine who is responsible for the attack." However, the department also said, "The facts reflect a despicable and highly dangerous record of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. Through its continued use of chemical weapons and its failure to destroy its chemical weapons program in its entirety, Syria continues to fail to comply with its legal obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and UN Security Council Resolution 2118."
US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said she looks forward to the JIM investigation, “so we can find justice for the victims.”
The US State Department also applauded the work of both the FFM and the JIM, “which have been pursued in an impartial and highly professional manner,” the department said in its statement.
The OPCW report comes on the heels of a White House statement this week alleging that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is preparing for "another" chemical weapons attack.
The Russian Foreign Ministry said it is “very likely a warning sign of an intervention.”
“The story will be the same: an incident happens on the territory controlled by the terrorists; civilian casualties follow. The so-called opposition – de facto the same jihadists, not very different from IS [Islamic State, formerly ISIS/ISIL] and Al-Qaeda, but who are still getting help from the US and allies – announce yet another ‘crime by the regime,’” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday.
She went on to single out potential locations for probable incidents – Sarrakab and Ar-Riha, where Moscow “believes that such a staged [chemical weapons] attack is being prepared.”
JIM has previously found fault with Syria for three chlorine gas attacks in 2014 and 2015, according to Reuters. The joint mission also blamed the Islamic State for mustard gas use.
The results of the OPCW FFM did not come as a surprise, as OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu had already said not long after the attack that test samples showed sarin or a similar agent was used.
An estimated 74 to 100 or more civilians were killed and hundreds were injured in the attack, according to various reports.
Washington rushed to blame Damascus based on open-source intelligence. Two days after video emerged of the April 4 attack, President Donald Trump authorized the firing of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles into the Syrian military airfield in Ash Sha’irat, from where US intelligence said the chemical attack was launched.
Damascus strongly denied responsibility for the April 4 incident. It said it did not possess or use chemical weapons, and that the Syrian Air Force destroyed a facility where the militants apparently stored nerve gas.