THE conclusion of a special UN inspections-team sent to Syria,
that there was "clear and convincing evidence" of the use of banned
Sarin gas in attacks on the outskirts of Damascus in August, has
bolstered the case for Russia's plan to put Syria's chemical
weapons under international supervision. But it has done nothing to
end the conflict itself. Saudi Arabia - one of the leading
anti-Syrian regime states - has indirectly accused the United
States of being side-tracked by the Russian scheme.
After the Syria report had been presented in private to the UN
Security Council, the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said that
the document had made for "chilling reading". On the basis of
evidence obtained during the UN investigation, "chemical weapons
have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in
[Syria], also against civilians, including children, on a
relatively large scale."
The report did not directly accuse the Syrian government of
using the chemicals, but this was the implication. The team, led by
a Swedish scientist Dr Åke Sellström, concluded that the
environmental, chemical, and medical samples collected provided
"clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-air rockets
containing the nerve agent Sarin were used in Ein Tarma,
Moadamiyah, and Zamalka, in the Ghouta area of Damascus."
Mr Ban called the results "overwhelming and indisputable. The
facts speak for themselves. The United Nations Mission has now
confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons
have been used in Syria. . . This is a war crime." He added that 85
per cent of blood samples from the sites in Ghouta tested positive
for Sarin, and the majority of the rocket fragments were also found
to be carrying the deadly nerve agent.
Mr Ban described the attack in Syria as the most serious
incident of its kind since Saddam Hussein ordered the use of
chemical weapons against the Kurds in the Halabja region of
northern Iraq in 1988. "The international community has a
responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable," he continued,
"and to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an
instrument of warfare."
Mr Ban said that he hoped that intensive discussions between
Russia and the US would reach a firm agreement on the safeguarding
and destruction of Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles. The unity
of the Security Council "will be crucial. Given the gravity of the
situation, I urge the Council to consider ways to ensure
enforcement of, and compliance with, the plan through a clear
Britain is one of the states backing the Russian-led initiative.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, told the BBC on Tuesday that
getting Mr Assad to comply with a UN resolution would be difficult:
"It is a huge task, as I warned the House of Commons: probably the
largest stock of chemical weapons in the world held on multiple
sites." But he said that ridding Syria of chemical weapons "is
possible, providing the international community is insistent and
the Assad regime is compliant".
But one of the West's main allies in the Middle East, Saudi
Arabia, is clearly irritated by what it regards as the failure by
Britain and the US to take military action against Syria - and
their acceptance of the Russian plan. A communiqué issued after the
weekly Saudi cabinet meeting on Monday called on the international
community to "take effective decisions to stop the fighting in
Syria immediately and increase support for the opposition".
The cabinet's statement also urged the world not to be
sidetracked by the deal on chemical weapons away from the need to
take military action against the Assad regime. One political
commentator interpreted the statement as a "clear signal that the
kingdom believes the Americans are being hoodwinked and are taking
the easy way out".
The commentator said that newspapers were being encouraged by
government sources to pursue this line. One prominent daily was
saying that "the Russians have successfully dragged the Americans
into the trap of entering a long tunnel of negotiations, talks, and
accusations. It would also appear that the Americans are completely
willing to enter into Moscow's traps." Eventually, the paper said,
Assad's position would be strengthened rather than weakened.