The United States believes that a recently released report from the United Nations clearly shows that the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people, a view that outside analysis is increasingly backing.
When releasing the report, U.N. officials went to great lengths to explain that determining just who launched the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack that the United States estimates killed 1,400 men, women, and children was outside of their mandate. “It is, as I said, for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility and accountability,” said U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon on Tuesday.
Despite that, the United States still believes that the report points directly towards Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s regime as being responsible for the gassing. “While the United States will continue analyzing the UN’s findings carefully, a preliminary review makes clear that only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack,” USUN spokeswoman Erin Pelton said in a blog post published on Monday soon after the report’s release.
“For a crime of this magnitude, it is not enough to say ‘chemical weapons were used,’ anymore than it would have been enough to say that ‘machetes were used’ in Rwanda in 1994,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power said on Tuesday before the U.N. General Assembly. “We must condemn the user, and here we must acknowledge what the technical details of the UN report make clear: only the regime could have carried out this large-scale chemical weapons attack, the largest attack in 25 years.”
An independent analysis in the pages of the New York Times also sees the Syrian government as the likely culprits, noting several pieces of evidence from within the report that could only point to the regime, even if not directly naming them as culpable. Among the data cited includes specific trajectories from based on the way the rockets determined to have been carrying sarin gas landed during the attack. Those trajectories and their bearings show that they come from Mount Qasioun, an area that is a stronghold of government control and what the Times calls “Damascus’s most prominent military position.”
Human Rights Watch reached the same conclusion as the Times, on Tuesday publishing a blog post noting that the directions and angles listed in the report could only have come from Moutn Qasioun. “The two attack locations are located 16 kilometers apart, but when mapping these trajectories, the presumed flight paths of the rockets converge on a well-known military base of the Republican Guard 104th Brigade, situated only a few kilometers north of downtown Damascus and within firing range of the neighborhoods attacked by chemical weapons,” analyst Josh Lyons writes. “This isn’t conclusive, given the limited data available to the UN team, but it is highly suggestive and another piece of the puzzle.”
According to the New York Times, a “senior American intelligence official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States, via satellite, had confirmed rocket launches that corroborated the United Nations data and the Human Rights Watch analysis for one of the strikes.” The U.S. also believes that a nearby airbase was also involved in the August attack as well, per the Times.
Russia continues, however, to believe that there is still a chance that Syria’s rebel forces launched the attack as a “provocation” to induce foreign intervention, according to Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov was speaking in Moscow after talks with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on a possible U.N. Security Council resolution to aid in the removal of Assad’s chemical weapons from Syria. “We want the events of August 21 to be investigated dispassionately, objectively and professionally,” he said.
Other members of Russia’s diplomatic corps are also pushing back against the United Nations’ report. “We are disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the U.N. secretariat and the U.N. inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the state-run Russian news agency RIA while in Damascus. “Without receiving a full picture of what is happening here, it is impossible to call the nature of the conclusions reached by the U.N. experts … anything but politicised, preconceived and one-sided,” he said after meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.