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Sarin Attack On Syrian Civilians Is A 'War Crime,' U.N. Says

Chemical weapons were used in Syria "on a relatively large scale" on Aug. 21, says U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who issued a report by U.N. inspectors Monday. The attack killed civilians, "including many children," and constitutes a "war crime," Ban wrote. He expressed his "profound shock and regret" at the findings.

Ban received the report over the weekend from professor Ake Sellstrom of Sweden, who headed the inspection team in the incident that took place near Damascus. The secretary-general briefed the Security Council on the report earlier Monday.

In the report, Sellstrom wrote that "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" in several neighborhoods in the Ghouta area of Damascus.

Saying that the act violated a 1925 prohibition on the use of poison gas in warfare, Ban wrote, "The international community has a moral responsibility to hold accountable those responsible and for ensuring that chemical weapons can never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare."

The inspection report did not attribute blame for the attacks — something its mandate forbade it from doing. The U.S. has accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of using the weapons; the leader has denied that claim, saying that the rebels were responsible for the deaths.

In his note releasing the report, Ban noted last week's "welcome development" of Syria stating that it will abide by the international convention banning the stockpiling and use of chemical weapons. He also praised the agreement reached Saturday by the U.S. and Russia, which targets the destruction of Syria's chemical weapons arsenal by next summer.

As we reported earlier today, former U.N. weapons inspector David Kay says that the timetable for cataloging and destroying Syria's chemical arsenal is "optimistic," noting the difficulty of finding and securing such weapons.

And Kay also said that any efforts to curb Syria's chemical stockpile would require some sort of military presence from the international community.

"It can't be just technical; it's going to require someone with boots on the ground to monitor it," he said.

The release of the inspectors' report follows a statement earlier today from the head of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Syria, who said that the panel is investigating 14 alleged cases of chemical attacks in Syria.

The commission's chairman, Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil, also said that in Syria's civil war, the "vast majority of the conflict's casualties resulted from unlawful attacks using conventional weapons such as guns and mortars," according to a summary on the commission's website.

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