When reports of a chemical weapons attack in Rif Dimashq near Damascus on August 21 first surfaced, some observers questioned whether these were really chemical weapons. Others questioned whether the force that deployed them, if that was what they were, was the Syrian army. T
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said that the evidence for Sarin gas use was indisputable and clearly a “war crime.” The UN inspectors were not tasked with determining who exactly used the toxic rockets. But the type of munitions and the trajectory they established pointed to the army of the ruling Baath regime in Damascus, since the rockets were in the government arsenal, came from regime-held positions and landed in rebel-controlled territory. The Syrian army chem unit that likely deployed these weapons appears to have engaged in a diabolical set of calculations, firing the warheads at a time when the winds were propitious for spreading the gas around and allowing it to seep into basements where the population of Ghouta was hiding from a regime bombing campaign.
Human Rights Watch noted,
“The rocket systems identified by the UN as used in the attack – truck-launched 330mm rockets with around 50 to 60 liters of Sarin, as well as 140mm Soviet-produced rockets carrying a smaller Sarin-filled warhead – are both known to be in the arsenal of the Syrian armed forces. They have never been seen in rebel hands. The amount of Sarin used in the attack – hundreds of kilograms, according to Human Rights Watch’s calculations – also indicates government responsibility for the attack, as opposition forces have never been known to be in possession of such significant amounts of Sarin.
The various theories claiming to have “evidence” that opposition forces were responsible for the attack lack credibility. This was not an accidental explosion caused by opposition fighters who mishandled chemical weapons, as claimed by some commentators online. The attacks took place at two sites 16 kilometres apart, and involved incoming rockets, not on-the-ground explosions. This was not a chemical attack cooked up by opposition forces in some underground kitchen. It was a sophisticated attack involving military-grade Sarin.”
As I have argued on several occasions, the Syrian regime must be punished for these severe war crime, and it is time for the US Treasury Department to close off the loopholes that allow Syrian banks to continue to interface with Western ones, if necessary by threatening Russian banks with third-party sanctions. This kind of pressure will be more effective than merely lobbing a couple of cruise missiles at Damascus, in any case.
Here are some key excerpts from the Sellstrom report:
“23. Information gathered about the delivery systems was essential for the investigation. Indeed, several surface to surface rockets capable of delivering significant chemical paloads were identified and recorded in the investigated sites . . . Samples later confirmed to contain Sarin were recovered from a majority of the rokets or rocket fragments.
24. In total, 30 environmental samples were recovered . . . According to the reports received from the OPCW-designated laboratories, the presence of Sarin, its degradation and/or production by-products were observed in a majority of the samples . . .
26. Blood, urine and hair samples were withdrawn from 34 of the 36 patients selected by the Mission who had signs of intoxication. The positive blood and urine specimens provide definitive evidence of exposure to Sarin by almost all of hte survivors assessed by the mission. These results are corroborated by the clinical assessments, which documented symptoms and signs that are consistent with nerve agent exporsure, including shortness of breath, eye irritation, excessive salivation, convulsions, confusion/disorientation, and miosis…
27. On the basis of the evidence obtained during our investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that on 21 August 2013, 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.
28. In particular, 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 Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Samalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus.
29. The facts supporting this conclusion are:
Impact site number 1 (Moadamiyah) and Impact site number 4 (Ein Tarma) provide sufficient evidence to determine, with a sufficient degree of accuracy, the likely trajectory of the projectiles.”