23 December 2013 — WashingtonsBlog
Evidence for Government Use of Chemical Weapons Fizzles
Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Seymour Hersh recently destroyed America’s claim that it was clearly the Syrian government which carried out the chemical weapons attacks. Now, the U.N. weapons inspectors have quietly retracted one of their main claims implying that Assad we behind the attack.
Former Associated Press and Newsweek reporter – Robert Parry – notes:
A United Nations analysis of samples taken from one of the two sites of the alleged Sarin attack outside Damascus, Syria, on Aug. 21 found zero chemical weapons agents, and oneUN laboratory backed off its earlier claim to have found a residue that can result from degraded Sarin on the remnants of the missile, according to revisions in a new UN report.
This failure to find Sarin anywhere in Moadamiyah, a suburb south of Damascus,undercuts analyses by Human Rights Watch and the New York Times that relied on a vectoring of the two attack sites – the other in Zamalka/Ein Tarma to the east where Sarin was detected – to conclude that an elite unit of the Syrian military must have been responsible for the attacks that brought the United States close to war in Syria.
There were already problems with the analyses … because of doubts about the flight paths of the missiles and their maximum range. UN inspectors only had a rough idea of the trajectories because at least one of the projectiles appears to have deflected off a building as it crash-landed.
Also, if the two missiles had been fired from the elite military base of the 104th Brigade of the Republican Guard northwest of Damascus, they would have had to fly about nine kilometers though independent experts have suggested that the improvised missiles probably could go no more than three kilometers.
Plus, the Moadamiyah missile – with its supposedly lethal payload of Sarin – would have had to pass over the presidential palace and other sensitive government sites, a highly risky undertaking if the alleged vectoring were correct.
But the revised UN analysis, attached to a new report on several other alleged chemical weapons incidents in Syria, punched a new hole in the notion that the Republican Guard fired a Sarin-laden missile into Moadamiyah. The UN inspectors found no chemical weapons agents on the remnants of the crudely made missile that landed in Moadamiyah (or for that matter no Sarin anywhere else in the area).
In the earlier UN report about the Aug. 21 incident, one of two UN labs had detected on a metal fragment what the lab thought was a chemical residue that can be left behind by degraded Sarin. But the new analysis withdraws that finding, an indication of how fragile the chemistry can be in getting false positives on derivative chemical residue.
The two UN laboratories are now in agreement that there was neither Sarin nor possible derivatives of Sarin on the metal fragments from the Moadamiyah missile.
In other words, if the only Sarin attack on Aug. 21 was in the Zamalka area, the certainty that the Syrian military carried out the assault has been seriously undermined. The vectoring cited by the New York Times and Human Rights Watch would become meaningless since there would be only one flight path of a Sarin-bearing missile, the one landing in Zamalka.
***In the Zamalka/Ein Tarma neighborhood, where a crudely made missile apparently did deliver poison gas, the inspectors stated that “the locations have been well traveled by other individuals prior to the arrival of the Mission. … During the time spent at these locations, individuals arrived carrying other suspected munitions indicating that such potential evidence is being moved and possibly manipulated.”
The inspectors also said their visits were in the “custody” of rebel forces who guided them to the sites and to alleged witnesses.
Parry also notes that the U.N. report strongly implies that rebels have – and have used – chemical weapons:
The new UN report, released Thursday, also assessed other cases of possible chemical weapons use in Syria, including claims by the government that rebels have used Sarin and other chemical agents to inflict casualties on government soldiers and civilians.
UN inspectors said they “collected credible information that corroborates the allegations that chemical weapons were used in Khan Al Asal (near the northern city of Aleppo) on 19 March 2013 against soldiers and civilians,” but the inspectors said they were unable to undertake a complete study because of time delays and security concerns.
The UN inspectors also examined a few incidents in the days after the Aug. 21 attack in which the Syrian government claimed its soldiers were targeted with chemical weapons, including an Aug. 25 incident at Ashrafiah Sahnaya, a town southwest of Damascus. The UN inspectors said they found evidence suggesting a small-scale attack was made against soldiers but were unable to establish the facts definitively.
Still, the totality of the new UN report suggests that Syrian rebels have developed a capability to produce at least crude chemical weapons and delivery systems, further adding to the possibility that the Aug. 21 attack east of Damascus could have resulted from a botched rebel launch of a makeshift missile aimed at government targets or as an accident.
This has actually been well-known for some time.