The United Nations has finally issued its report on whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria.
The verdict: they were -- at least five times -- but we still don't know which side used them.
This was a more comprehensive report than the one the U.N. issued in September, which said that sarin gas was definitely used in the Aug. 21 attack on Damascus. Now, the U.N. says, it has found evidence that "suggests" (in the words of the 82-page U.N. report) that sarin gas was used in at least four other attacks, all in 2013: Khan al Assal on March 19, Saraqueb on April 29, Jobar on Aug. 24 and Ashrafiah Sahnaya on Aug. 25. Twenty-one people are believed to have been killed in those attacks.
The U.N.'s wording wasn't as strong in those four as it was for the site of the Aug. 21 attacks, which killed almost 1,500 people. There, the U.N. said, the evidence was "clear and convincing." At the other sites, the U.N. collected evidence that "corroborated" or was "consistent with" allegations that chemical weapons were used. Those included blood tests, samples taken from a victim's internal organs and the attack survivors' symptoms.
Much like it did in the September report, the U.N. stayed away from assigning blame for the attacks. The United States has maintained that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was behind the Aug. 21 attacks, though Seymour Hersh recently wrote that the Obama administration hid evidence that the rebels were able to make and use sarin gas. Assad has always blamed the rebels.
Upon receiving the final report, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said: "The use of chemical weapons is a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity. We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere. "
Ban is scheduled to say more on Friday and Monday, once he's had a chance to read the report.
After the Aug. 21 attack, Assad agreed to let the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons destroy its chemical weapons. But the weapons couldn't be destroyed in Syria, as it's in the middle of a civil war, and Albania refused to host them. Instead, the weapons will be destroyed aboard a U.S. ship somewhere in the middle of the ocean in a process an unnamed official assured reporters was "environmentally sound."
Alternately, Croatia might do it.
Yesterday, amid reports of increased fighting between rebel groups, the United States decided to stop providing non-military aid to the rebel-controlled region of northern Syria.
Reprinted with permission from The Wire. The original story can be found here.
This article was published in Global Security Newswire, which is produced independently by National Journal Group under contract with the Nuclear Threat Initiative. NTI is a nonprofit, nonpartisan group working to reduce global threats from nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons.