UN team finds sarin gas used in Syrian attack

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has presented the Security Council with a report by a U.N. expert team on a chemical weapons attack in Syria last month that he says “makes for chilling reading.” It found that sarin nerve gas-filled rockets were fired into the Damascus suburb of Ghouta but did not say who launched the attacks.

Here are the highlights of the U.N. report:

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WHAT KIND OF CHEMICAL WEAPON WAS USED?

Chemical weapons were used on a “relatively large scale” on Aug. 21 in Ghouta. The team found evidence of sarin gas on many ground-to-ground rocket fragments. Soil samples in the vicinity of the landing sites were saturated with sarin. Blood and urine samples taken from victims found sarin poisoning and breakdown components of sarin.

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HOW WAS THE GAS DELIVERED?

The U.N. team found remnants of rockets that were 630mm long and 140mm wide, with a small rocket motor on the bottom, a central shaft and a cylindrical warhead. The warhead had a capacity to hold about 56 liters (14.8 gallons) of liquid sarin, plus or minus 6 liters (1.6 gallons).

The rockets were “variants of the M14 artillery rocket, with either an original or improvised warhead.” The team was able to trace back the trajectories of two of the rockets and found their path could have come from a single, multi-barreled launcher.

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WHAT SYMPTOMS DID PEOPLE SHOW?

The team examined 36 survivors of the attack, and found loss of consciousness in 78 percent; shortness of breath in 61 percent; blurred vision in 42 percent; eye irritation or inflammation in 22 percent; excessive salivation, or vomiting, in 22 percent; and convulsions or seizures in 19 percent. Of 34 blood samples taken, 91 percent tested positive for sarin exposure at one laboratory, and 85 percent tested positive at another lab.

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WHO FIRED THE WEAPONS?

The U.N. team’s mandate was strictly limited to evidence-gathering and testing to determine if a banned chemical weapon as used. Syria had requested the dispatch of the U.N. team to investigate a March 19 incident at Khan al-Assal earlier this year. After protracted negotiations with the United Nations, agreement was finally reached for the team to check that and two other alleged attack sites. But the team was not to assign blame for the attacks.

The U.N. team reported that while it was at the Ghouta attack site in rebel-held territory, “individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.”

Syria has blamed the opposition for the attack.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power said after the Security Council meeting that the rockets used “bore none of the hallmarks of improvised weapons.” She said that “The regime possesses sarin, and we have no evidence that the opposition possesses it.” She added that “It defies logic to think that the opposition would have infiltrated the regime areas to fire chemical weapons on opposition areas.”

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