|United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (L) and Ake Sellstrom, head of the UN mission that investigated the allegations of chemical weapons use in the Damascus suburbs, attend a press conference at the UN headquarters in New York, on Sept. 16, 2013. Chemical weapons were used at Ghouta, Syria, on Aug. 21 "on a relatively large scale resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children," a UN report said Monday. (Xinhua/Niu Xiaolei)
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UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- Chemical weapons were used at Ghouta, Syria, on Aug. 21 "on a relatively large scale resulting in numerous casualties, particularly among civilians and including many children," a UN report said Monday.
In a letter to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon accompanying the report, Ake Sellstrom, the head of the mission that was responsible for investigating the alleged use of chemical weapons in the suburbs of Damascus, the Syrian capital, said there was evidence rockets and the nerve gas sarin were employed.
"On the basis of the evidence obtained during our investigation of the Ghouta incident: the conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used .. on relatively large scale," Sellstrom said. "in particular, the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide a clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zamalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus."
"This result leaves us with the deepest concern," the head of the investigative mission said.
The mission was charged solely with the task of finding whether chemical weapons were used at Ghouta during Syria's civil war of more than two years but not who used them. Hundreds allegedly died in the attack. Both the government of Syria and opposition forces accused each other of using chemical weapons in the attack.
While addressing a closed-door meeting of the UN Security Council, Secretary-General Ban said "the United Nations Mission has now confirmed, unequivocally and objectively, that chemical weapons have been used in Syria."
"This is a war crime and a grave violation of the 1925 Protocol and other rules of customary international law," said Ban. "I trust all can join me in condemning this despicable crime. The international community has a responsibility to hold the perpetrators accountable and to ensure that chemical weapons never re-emerge as an instrument of warfare."
Ban told in great detail about the UN investigative team's work, stressing "the Mission's findings are based on the evidence it obtained in the course of its activities in the Ghouta area."
"Routes of entry into the relevant areas and other crucial elements remained uncertain until the final moments," Ban said. " The Mission was also the victim of a sniper attack. Despite these difficulties and dangers, the Mission was able to carry out extensive activities on site in the limited time it had available. "
He said the team interviewed more than 50 survivors, medical personnel and first responders.
"It applied a rigorous and objective selection process designed to identify survivors who may have been exposed to chemical agents. It assessed these individuals' symptoms and collected biomedical samples, including from hair, urine and blood," Ban said. "The mission also documented and sampled impact sites and munitions, and collected 30 soil and environmental samples -- far more than any previous such United Nations investigation."
Survivors recalled they quickly experienced a range of symptoms, including shortness of breath, disorientation, eye irritation, blurred vision, nausea, vomiting and general weakness, according to Ban.
"The mission also interviewed nine nurses and seven treating physicians, several of whom responded immediately to the incident, " he said. "They reported seeing a large number of people lying in the streets without external signs of injury, some with labored breathing, most of them unconscious."
"The weather conditions that morning were conducive to maximizing the potential impact of an attack involving heavy gases, which can stay close to the ground," the secretary-general said. " The downward movement of air would have allowed the gas to easily penetrate the basements and lower levels of buildings and other structures where many people were seeking shelter.
Ban said the samples collected were sent to four laboratories in Europe designated by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) where 85 percent of blood samples tested positive for sarin.
"Impacted and exploded surface-to-surface rockets capable of carrying a chemical payload, were examined and a majority of the rockets or rocket fragments recovered were found to be carrying sarin," he said, adding "The results are overwhelming and indisputable. The facts speak for themselves."
The investigation mission, which was in Damascus preparing to investigate Khan al Assal before Ban ordered it to "prioritize" the Ghouta incident happening on Aug. 21, has yet to complete its original assignment, the investigation of allegations of chemical weapons being used in Khan Al Assal and other sites before completing its final report.
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