UN report blames gas attack on Syrian regime
United Nations investigators on Oct. 26 blamed a sarin gas massacre on Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as the United States renewed its warning that he has no role in Syria’s future.United Nations investigators on Oct. 26 blamed a sarin gas massacre on Bashar al-Assad’s regime, as the United States renewed its warning that he has no role in Syria’s future.
The expert panel’s report and tough remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson overshadowed the announcement that U.N.-sponsored peace talks will resume next month.More than 80 people died on April 4 this year when sarin gas projectiles were fired into Khan Sheikhun, a rebel-held town in the Idlib province of northwestern Syria.Images of dead and dying victims, including young children, in the aftermath of the attack provoked global outrage and a U.S. cruise missile strike on a regime air base.
The U.N. placed the death toll at 83 while the U.K.-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it was 87.Syria and its ally Russia had suggested that a rebel weapon may have detonated on the ground but the U.N. panel confirmed Western intelligence reports that blamed the regime.
“The Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017,” the report from the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) said.
The report will increase pressure on Assad’s regime just as Washington, in the wake of battlefield victories against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), renews calls for him to step down.Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments to reporters came during a visit to Geneva in which he met U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is trying to convene a new round of peace talks next month.
The secretary said U.S. policy has not changed, but his remarks represented tougher language from an administration that had previously said Assad’s fate is not a priority.
“We do not believe there is a future for the Assad regime, the Assad family,” Tillerson said.
“I think I’ve said it on a number of occasions. The reign of the Assad family is coming to an end, and the only issue is how should that be brought about.”
Russia, which is running a parallel peace process with Iran and Turkey in a series of talks in the Kazakh capital Astana, reacted coolly to Tillerson’s remarks.
“I think we should not pre-empt any future for anybody,” said Moscow’s U.N. ambassador Vassily Nebenzia, who on Oct. 24 had vetoed a US attempt to extend the gas attack probe.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the U.N. panel’s report had reached a “clear conclusion” and urged the “international community to unite to hold Assad’s regime accountable.”
“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,” he said.De Mistura hopes to convene an eighth round of Syrian peace talks between Assad’s regime and an opposition coalition in Geneva from Nov. 28.
On Oct. 27, Russia criticized the U.N. report, with a deputy foreign minister saying it contained inconsistencies and unverified evidence.
“Even the first cursory read shows that many inconsistencies, logical discrepancies, using doubtful witness accounts and unverified evidence... all of this is still [in the report],” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Interfax news agency.
Ryabkov said other nations were seeking to use the report to “resolve their own strategic geopolitical issues in Syria.”
Russia would analyze the findings and publish a response soon, he added.