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Assad regime, ISIS carried out chemical attacks, probe finds

UNITED NATIONS -- An international team has concluded that the Syrian government and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants carried out chemical attacks in the conflict-wracked nation during 2014 and 2015, according to its report circulated on Wednesday.

The team, which was mandated by the U.N. Security Council a year ago to identify those responsible for chemical attacks in Syria, blamed the government for using chlorine gas in two attacks and ISIS fighters for using mustard gas in one attack.

The report to the council by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism, known as the JIM, said three other cases pointed toward government responsibility but weren’t conclusive. 

Syrian rebels say hundreds killed in gas attack 03:17

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power called the use of chemical weapons “a barbaric tool, repugnant to the conscience of mankind,” and urged the Security Council to take “strong and swift action” against the perpetrators.

She accused the Syrian government of violating a council resolution banning the use of chemical weapons and its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention, which the OPCW monitors.

The experts’ findings mirror “numerous other confirmed cases of chemical weapons use across Syria, and countless other allegations of such use, including as recently as several weeks ago,” Power said.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Alexis Lamek also called for council action saying: “When it comes to proliferation, use of chemical weapons, such weapons of mass destruction, we cannot afford being weak and the council will have to act.”

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the JIM report on Aug. 30, but whether it will take any action remains to be seen. Russia, a close ally of Syria, has blocked sanctions and other council action against President Bashar Assad’s government - but Moscow did support the establishment of the JIM to assess accountability.

Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said the council must ensure that those responsible for “the sickening, illegal use of chemical weapons in Syria ... are brought to justice in a court of law.”

“Without accountability, the cycle of abuses in Syria by all parties to the conflict -- whether by chemical or conventional weapons - will continue unabated,” he said.

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According to the report, obtained by The Associated Press, the JIM found the Syrian government responsible for two chlorine attacks in Idlib governorate, one in Talmenes on April 21, 2014 and one in Sarmin on March 16, 2015.

It also said that ISIS was “the only entity with the ability, capability, motive and the means to use sulfur mustard” gas in Marea in Aleppo governorate near the Turkish border on Aug. 21, 2015. At the time, ISIS fighters were attacking rebels.

The JIM called for further investigation of several other cases it examined, and Power said the United States expects the international experts to continue trying to assess responsibility.

In the report, the JIM said that between December 2015 and August 2016 it received more than 130 new allegations from U.N. member states of the use of chemical weapons or toxic chemicals as weapons in Syria.

It said 13 alleged the use of sarin, 12 mustard gas, 4 VX nerve gas, 41 chlorine, and 61 other toxic chemicals.

“The information suggests the involvement of both the government of the Syrian Arab Republic and other actions in these alleged incidents,” the report said.

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