x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

UN chemical investigators led by Ake Sellstrom confirmed the use of sarin nerve agent in the August 21 attack outside the Syrian capital in a long-awaited report that the United States, Britain and France said proved President Bashar Al Assad’s forces were responsible.

UNITED NATIONS // The United Nations on Wednesday defended a report by UN chemical weapons experts that Russia has criticised as “one-sided”, saying its conclusion that rockets loaded with sarin gas were used in an August 21 attack should not be questioned.

“The findings in that report are indisputable,” UN spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. “They speak for themselves and this was a thoroughly objective report on that specific incident.”

UN chemical investigators led by Ake Sellstrom of Sweden on Monday confirmed the use of sarin nerve agent in the August 21 attack outside the Syrian capital in a long-awaited report that the United States, Britain and France said proved President Bashar Al Assad’s forces were responsible.

Russia, however, denounced Mr Sellstrom’s findings aspreconceived and tainted by politics, stepping up its criticism of the report. Russia, like Mr Al Assad’s government, says the rebels carried out the attack, which the United States says killed more than 1,400 people, including over 400 children.

Mr Nesirky said the chain of custody of all environmental and biomedical samples taken by the inspectors was meticulously documented. He added that the experts would return to Syria as soon as possible to continue their investigation into a March incident at Khan Al Asal and all other “credible allegations”.

Mr Sellstrom’s mandate was limited to investigating whether chemical weapons were used, not who used them. But western officials say that technical details in the report provide clear evidence that Mr Al Assad’s forces carried out the attack.

Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday that rocket trajectories detailed in the UN report suggested the sarin-filled shells had been fired from a base belonging to the Republican Guard, run by Mr Al Assad’s brother, Maher.

Western diplomats confirmed the Human Rights Watch report.

Diplomats in New York said Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin questioned some of the findings in Mr Sellstrom’s report ata Security Council meeting on Monday. Mr Churkin, they said, asked Mr Sellstrom to describe the quality of the weapons that dispersed sarin.

“The rockets found on the site were professionally made and, according to Dr. Sellstrom, they bore none of thecharacteristics of jerry-rigged, improvised weapons,” US Ambassador Samantha Power said on Tuesday.

Reuters