U.N. inspection report confirms “large scale” chemical weapons attack in Ghouta

IMAGE SOURCE: United Nations

The United Nations inspection team – led by Swedish scientist Dr. Åke Sellström – released a report on Monday confirming the use of chemical weapons, specifically sarin gas, in the Ghouta suburb of Damascus, where more than 1,400 Syrians – including 400 children – were killed on Aug. 21st. 

“On the basis of the evidence obtained during our 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,” wrote Dr. Sellström. “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 in Elin Tarma, Moadamiyah, and Zamalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus.”

Read more: Syria: Chemical Weapons

Calling the report’s finding  “chilling”, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said the perpetrators of the Ghouta chemical attack must be held accountable for the “war crime”.

“The findings are beyond doubt and beyond pale. This is a war crime and grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of international law – customary international law. It is the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century,” said Moon. “There must be accountability for the use of chemical weapons. Any use of chemical weapons by anyone, anywhere is a crime.”

Among other things, U.N. inspection team found that:

  • Blood and urine samples collected from dozens of survivors tested positive for sarin. In fact, the bio-medical samples were sent to two laboratories, and one laboratory reported that 85% of the samples tested positive for sarin exposure and the second laboratory reported that 91% of the samples tested positive for sarin.


  • Interviews with dozens of first responders, clinicians, and survivors of the Ghouta attack. “Survivors reported a military attack with shelling followed by the onset of a common range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, rhinorrhea (runny nose), eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting, general weakness, and eventual loss of consciousness,” according to the report. Those symptoms are consistent with exposure to sarin. Furthermore, survivors also reported “seeing a large number of individuals lying on the ground, many of whom were deceased or unconscious. These individuals reported observing labored breathing and excessive salivation among a large proportion of the survivors.” These reports by survivors, documented symptoms, and medical records all corroborated with the biomedical test results indicating exposure to sarin.


  • Rockets and munition fragments recovered in Ghouta tested positive for sarin. “Impacted and exploded surface-to-surface rockets, capable to carry a chemical payload, were found to contain sarin,” according to the report.


  • Environmental samples, such as soil, fragments, debris, collected from the affected areas, including around the soil, also tested positive for sarin contamination.


  • Weather condition in Damascus between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. on Aug. 21st showed falling temperature, meaning that the cold air is moving down to the ground, creating the ideal condition to launch a chemical weapons attack. “Chemical weapons use in such meteorological conditions maximizes their potential impact as the heavy gas can stay close to the ground and penetrate into lower levels of buildings and constructions where many people were taking shelter,” the report noted.


While acknowledging that the U.N. team did not investigate who was responsible for the chemical attack, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power pointed out that the Syrian government is known to have used at least one type of rockets cited in Sellström’s report, giving further indication that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are behind the chemical attack.

Read more: U.S. & Russia set framework for disposing Syria’s chemical weapons; Assad signs Chemical Weapons Convention

“We will analyze the U.N.’s findings in greater detail very carefully, but based on our preliminary review, I will note one particular observation. We have associated one type of munition cited in the U.N. report – 122 millimeter rockets – with previous regime attacks,” said Power. “We have reviewed thousands of open-source related to the current conflict in Syria and have not observed the opposition manufacturing or using this style of rocket.”

Power also noted that during the Security Council briefing, Dr. Sellström assessed that the sarin recovered in Ghouta were high quality and professionally produced.

“Mr. Sellström noted in response to a question from Russia that the quality of the sarin was higher than that of the sarin used in Saddam Hussein’s program. Again, higher than the quality of that used in Saddam Hussein’s program,” said Power. “Mr. Sellström also stated that the weapons obtained on the site – on the scene of this monstrous crime – were professionally made. He said they bore none of the characteristics of improvised weapons.”

According to Power, Sellström’s assessments provide additional evidence that the Aug. 21st attacks were carried out by Assad’s forces.

“The technical details [of the U.N. report] will provide even more or lend themselves to an even more unmistakable conclusion that the regime is behind this attack,” said Power.

However, Russian Ambassador to the U.N. Vitaly Churkin caution against jumping into conclusions and assigning blame based on a cursory review of the U.N. report.

“It has to be studied very carefully. The work of the Sellström mission should continue,” said Churkin.

Churkin noted that Sellström’s team is expected to return to Syria to complete its investigation into the use of chemical weapons, including instances in Khan al-Asal and Sheik Maqsood and Saraqueb.

Churkin was also critical of the United States’ and United Kingdom’s assertions that the Syrian opposition did not have the capability – and therefore cannot be responsible – to carry out such large-scale chemical attacks. (In an interview with American journalist Charlie Rose, Assad claimed that it was the Syrian opposition that carried out the Ghouta attacks.)

“I think statements to the effect that the opposition could not have done certain things, I think they’re not really as scientific and as grounded on reality as the actual situation could be,” said Churkin. “And also, the allegations that in fact it was the opposition who used chemical weapons cannot be simply shrugged off, I mean, on Aug. 21. Those allegations also need to be very seriously investigated.”

Next steps

The matter is being referred to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague. The OPCW is expected to vote on a resolution this week after which the Security Council finalize a resolution that will “enshrine the OPCW decision in legally binding form,” according to U.K. Ambassador Sir Mark Lyall Grant.

Power insisted that the Security Council resolution must provide a mechanism for verification for the destructions of Syria’s chemical weapons stocks and allow OPCW to report any non-compliance to the Security Council, which could then impose Chapter 7 measures (including the use of force).

“It’s no secret that Syria, from time to time over the last two and a half years, grants compliance and grants cooperation and then withdraws it. It’s also no secret now that Syria’s responsible for the largest mass casualty chemical weapons attack in 25 years. So the Security Council has to speak and has to make this mechanism enforceable,” said Power.

Moon emphasized that the only way to resolve the Syrian conflict is through a political settlement. The 2.5 year conflict has killed more than 100,000 people and forced 2 million – about one-third of the Syrian population – to flee to neighboring countries, which is destabilizing the Middle East.

Moon said that he will be meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to set a date for the Geneva II conference.

“All of the killing must end. The fighting must end. We need to do everything we can to bring the parties to the negotiating table,” said Moon. “My hope is that this instance will serve as a wake-up call for more determined efforts to resolve the conflict and end the unbearable suffering of the Syrian people.”


Learn More:

One Comment on “U.N. inspection report confirms “large scale” chemical weapons attack in Ghouta

  1. Pingback: Syria: Chemical Weapons | What The Folly?!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.