UN rights team probing 14 chemical attacks in Syria

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Photo PTI
Photo PTI

Geneva, Sep 16 (AFP): UN-mandated human rights investigators today said they were probing 14 alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria, but said they were still unable to pin the blame on either side.

“We’re investigating 14 cases of alleged chemical weapons use,” said Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, head of an independent commission inquiry set up by the UN Human Rights Council.

Pinheiro told reporters that given the difficulties in gathering evidence, it was not possible immediately to establish responsibility for the attacks, committed since the inquiry team started its probe in September 2011.

The four-member commission, which also includes former war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte, has been refused access to Syria by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

As a result, its investigation methods include meeting with Syrian refugees and carrying out telephone and Skype interviews with those in the country.

Pinheiro said the team was also poring over videos of chemical attacks in Syria and had received input from military experts.

Despite being unable to say who had deployed chemical weapons, Pinheiro earlier told the UN Human Rights Council that their use was clearly a war crime.

But he said that amid the global focus on Syria’s chemical weapons, the use of deadly conventional arms should not be sidelined.

“The vast majority of the conflict’s casualties result from unlawful attacks using conventional – I repeat, conventional – weapons such as guns and mortars,” he told the council.

Under pressure over an August 21 chemical attack which the Syrian government’s opponents say claimed over 1,400 lives, the Assad regime has signed an international treaty banning such arms.

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