12 Sep 2013

UN report may hint at source of Syria chemical attack

8:52 pm on 12 September 2013

United Nations chemical weapons investigators will not explicitly pin the blame on anyone in their report on the poison gas attack in Syria but diplomats say their factual reporting alone could suggest which side was responsible.

The report could easily become a bargaining chip in talks between Moscow and Western powers on conditions for Syria to give up its chemical weapons and the terms of a United Nations Security Council resolution on the matter, Reuters reports.

Two Western diplomats said they strongly expected chief UN investigator Ake Sellstrom's report would confirm the United States view that sarin gas was used in the 21 August attack on suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds.

One diplomat said there was a good chance the report would come out on Monday, while others predicted it could come any time from this coming weekend to next week.

While Mr Sellstrom's report will not explicitly assign blame, Western diplomats said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has been highly critical of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government during the 2-1/2 year war, may choose to say whether or not he feels the facts suggest Mr Assad's forces were responsible.

"We expect it (the report) will have a narrative of evidence," said one UN official. A third Western diplomat said the report will not directly accuse anyone of carrying out the attack but it may include facts that suggest blame.

Two Western diplomats following the issue said they expected those facts would indirectly point in the direction of the Syrian government. They declined to elaborate, reports Reuters.

Samples collected by UN inspectors were split, resealed and sent to four other partner laboratories, including one in Finland and one in Sweden, UN officials say. The process of analysing them takes weeks because the biomedical samples, including urine, blood and hair, need time to grow cultures.