UN chemical weapons investigators depart Syria after six-day mission

Head of the chemical weapons team working in Syria Åke Sellström (foreground) with other members in The Hague. Photo: OPCW/Henry Arvidsson (file photo)

30 September 2013 – The United Nations team investigating allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria has left the country after completing its six-day mission, a spokesperson for the world body said today.

“The team will now move to the phase of finalizing its report, which the team hopes will be ready by late October,” UN spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York.

Led by Swedish scientist Ake Sellström, the team is mandated with evaluating all available information related to all allegations reported by Member States, for the purpose of preparing its final report.

Those allegations include the 19 March incident at Khan al-Asal, reported first by Syria and subsequently by other Member States. As previously agreed with Syria, the other allegations to be investigated include the 13 April incident at Sheikh Maqsud, reported by the United States, and the 29 April incident at Saraqueb, reported by France and the United Kingdom.

In addition, the team has continued to follow-up with the Syrian Government and to evaluate information it has provided on three additional allegations, including the incidents at Bahhariyeh on 22 August, at Jobar on 24 August, and at Sahnaya on 25 August.

After a visit to Syria last month, the team, assisted by experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), found “clear and convincing evidence” that Sarin gas was used in an incident that occurred on 21 August in the Ghouta area on the outskirts of Damascus in which hundreds of people were reportedly killed.

In the wake of those findings, the Security Council last Friday called for the elimination of Syria’s chemical weapons, while endorsing a diplomatic plan for Syrian-led negotiations towards peace.

Acting unanimously, the 15-member Council adopted a resolution calling for the speedy implementation of procedures drawn up by the OPCW “for the expeditious destruction of the Syrian Arab Republic’s chemical weapons programme and stringent verification thereof.”

It underscored “that no party in Syria should use, develop, produce, acquire, stockpile, retain, or transfer chemical weapons,” adding that defiance of the resolution would lead to measures under the UN Charter’s binding Chapter VII, which can include sanctions or stronger coercive action.

More than 100,000 people have been killed since the conflict in Syria began in March 2011, over 2 million people have fled for safety to neighbouring countries and 4 million have been displaced within the country.


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