BEIRUT – A United Nations report released Thursday concluded that chemical weapons have probably been deployed on several occasions in Syria, the most convincing evidence coming from the Aug. 21 attacks outside Damascus that left hundreds dead.
Chemical weapons may have been deployed in five of seven cases investigated, occurring from March to August, including the Aug. 21 incident, according to the report.
As expected, the 82-page report did not apportion blame for any of the alleged chemical weapons strikes. U.N. guidelines limited the investigators’ scope to determining whether chemical weapons had been used, not who may have deployed toxic arms.
Without a definitive conclusion, the report seems likely to extend the debate about who has used chemical weapons in the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.
Forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and fighters from the opposition have accused each other of deploying poison gas.
The deadliest and most sensational incident was the series of attacks Aug. 21 in the so-called eastern Ghouta area, which was largely under rebel control. The incident appeared to be the only case in which U.N. investigators – who were in Damascus at the time – succeeded in identifying the likely source of the contamination: surface-to-surface rockets apparently containing payloads of sarin, a deadly nerve agent.
The U.N. investigation “collected clear and convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale in the Ghouta area,” the report said. The finding backed a conclusion reached in a preliminary U.N. finding in September.
The Aug. 21 attacks eventually led to a U.S.-Russian pact that resulted in the Syrian government agreeing to relinquish its chemical weapons stockpiles under international supervision by mid-2014. The accord averted threatened U.S. airstrikes against the government.