UN: Syria responsible for sarin attack that killed scores

By Steve Almasy and Richard Roth, CNN

(CNN) -- The sarin attack earlier this year on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun that killed more than 80 people was the work of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, a joint report from the United Nations and international chemical weapons inspectors finds.

Three UN diplomats confirmed the report's finding.

"The panel is confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhun on 4 April 2017," the report says, one diplomat told CNN.

The April attack prompted US President Donald Trump to order the US military to launch 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase.

"‎Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. And in spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now," Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement.

Horrifying images and videos emerged after the incident showing civilians, including children, struggling to breathe with foam coming from their mouths.

Syria has repeatedly denied it had anything to do with the attack and also denies it has any chemical weapons. Damascus has said an airstrike hit a chemical weapons depot in the rebel-held area.

The report issued Thursday was compiled by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the United Nations' Joint Investigative Mechanism, the investigative panel probing the use of chemical weapons in Syria. The report was sent to the Security Council.

On Tuesday, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to extend the mandate of the Joint Investigative Mechanism.

Russia says the group is biased against the Assad government. The mandate of the JIM, as it is known, expires in three weeks.

When the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons made a statement about its findings in June, Syrian ally Russia slammed that news as politically motivated and based on "doubtful data."

Russia is Syria's most powerful ally and has bankrolled much of the six-year conflict, carrying out regular airstrikes in Syria to prop up Assad's regime.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Thursday that Russia was not following through on its promise to ensure Syria abandoned chemical weapons.

He criticized Russia's veto of the JIM mandate and other vetoes at the United Nations.

"This behavior can only undermine the global consensus against the use of chemical weapons," he said. "I call on Russia to stop covering up for its abhorrent ally and keep its own commitment to ensure that chemical weapons are never used again."

Haley called on the UN Security Council to "send a clear message that the use of chemical weapons by anyone will not be tolerated."

Stockpiles of sarin may exist in Syria, despite the OPCW overseeing the destruction of the country's chemical weapon supply in 2013, after an attack in the Ghouta area of Damascus. Activists said that attack killed 1,400 people.

Sarin is an extremely volatile nerve agent because of its ability to change from liquid to gas. People are exposed to sarin through skin contact, eye contact, or by breathing it. Severely exposed people are not likely to survive.

A leading human rights group said the United Nations must act.

"This is the fourth attack where the UN-appointed inquiry has found that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in blatant violation of international humanitarian law. The question now is whether Security Council and OPCW members, including Russia, will move to protect a key international rule and hold Syrian authorities accountable as they said they would," said Louis Charbonneau, UN director at Human Rights Watch.

The joint report also blamed ISIS for using sulfur mustard in Syria in September.


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