Swiss condemn Damascus chemical attack

Åke Sellström and his team of inspectors found proof that sarin gas was used in Syria Keystone

Switzerland has strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons in the Syrian conflict, following the publication of a United Nations report that confirms the civilian population on the outskirts of Damascus was targeted by these arms.

This content was published on September 17, 2013 minutes and agencies

In a statement, the Swiss government called the use of chemical weapons a “serious breach of international humanitarian law”. It called on all parties involved in the conflict to ensure the protection of the civilian population.

Taking note that the UN report was drawn up with the support of its Spiez laboratory, the government said it was ready to contribute to the implementation of the international plan, announced in Geneva over the weekend, to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

“Switzerland has welcomed the proposal to put Syrian chemical weapons under international control in order to implement international humanitarian law and to reopen dialogue to find a just and negotiated solution to the conflict in Syria,” the statement added.

“Action by the international community – in the form of a decision by the UN Security Council – has now become even more urgent and necessary.”

‘Clear and convincing evidence’

UN chemical investigators confirmed on Monday in their report the use of sarin gas – a nerve agent – in an August 21 attack in the suburbs of Damascus, noting that weather conditions at the time ensured the maximum number of people were killed.

As expected, the report did not say who launched the attack in the rebel-held suburb of Ghouta. The investigators’ mandate is limited to investigating the facts, not assigning blame.

“On the basis of the evidence obtained during the investigation of the Ghouta incident, the conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale,” said the report by chief UN investigator Åke Sellström of Sweden.

“In particular, the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used,” it said.

UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council: “The United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria.”

Ban told the council that 85 per cent of the blood samples taken by investigators tested positive for sarin, while almost all the biomedical samples tested positive for exposure to sarin gas.

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More than 100,000 deaths

The UN secretary-general urged council members to consider ways to ensure enforcement and compliance with the weekend deal on Syria’s chemical weapons reached by the United States and Russia that could avert US military action.

“I agree there should be consequences for non-compliance. Any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere, is a crime,” he said.

Some Western diplomats have said on condition of anonymity that information about the type of weapons and other details Sellström might possess could hint at government responsibility for the attack. But rebels have seized all kinds of weapons from military depots across the country in the two-and-a-half-year civil war.

United Nations special envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, told French-language public radio, RTS, a second Syria peace conference , dubbed Geneva II may take place in October.

The UN says more than 100,000 people have died in Syria since March 2011.

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