LATEST: UN’s Ban: “This Is A War Crime” — But Who’s Responsible?



UN Inspectors Find Sarin Used in August 21 Chemical Weapons Attacks
*Russian FM Lavrov: Final Decision On Destroying Chemical Weapons Should Be Taken By OPCW
*Kerry: UN Resolution Not “Lifeline” for Assad


*Activists Accuse Assad Of Barrel Bombing The Euphrates Dam
*The Training Camp Near Tehran for Syria’s Militia
*Regime Airstrikes In Al Sbeneh, Damascus Suburbs
*Youth In Besieged Homs Says International Community Has Betrayed Syria
*No Schools In Homs At The Start Of The Academic Year

Latest Updates, From Top to Bottom

UN’s Ban: “This Is A War Crime” — But Who’s Responsible?

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has declared, “This is a war crime, and a grave violation…the most significant use of chemical weapons against civilians” since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988.

However, Ban would not cast blame, “It is for others to decide whether to pursue this matter further to determine responsibility. It was a grave crime and those responsible must be brought to justice as soon as possible.”

The Secretary-General said he has asked the chemical weapons inspectors to return to Syria “as soon as we have an agreement with the Syrian government”.

Russian State News Agency: USSR Supplied M-14s To Syria In 1967-69

Russian State news agency ITAR-TASS points out that one of the munitions identified in the UN inspectors’ report into the August 21 chemical weapons attacks is a Soviet M-14.

Perhaps to distance Moscow from any association with the attacks, ITAR-TASS points out that the M-14s were supplied to Syria from 1967-1969 and are now retired.

However, ITAR-TASS points out that the 140-millimeter shells of the M-14 were designed to be used in the multiple launch rocket systems of the Uragan (Hurricane) or the RPU-14, which entered service in 1956.

As ITAR-TASS explains, the M-14 can be equipped with either high-explosive or chemical warheads or a warhead with a white phosphorus payload.

The Soviet army began to replace its M-14s with the modern BM-21 Grad missiles in the mid-1960s, but ITAR-TASS notes that as of 2010, the M-14 remained in service with a number of countries, including Afghanistan, Algeria, Egypt and Yemen.

Turkish Warplanes Down Syrian Helicopter

Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian helicopter on Monday.

Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister said the military helicopter violated Turkish airspace near the Turkey-Syria border in Hatay Province.

A Turkish jet was downed, possibly by Syrian air defense units, over the Mediterranean in June 2012. Ankara then warned Damascus that it would hit Syrian air force elements that got too near the Turkish border.

In November, Turkish fighter jets scrambled as a Syrian warplane bombed the town of Ras al-Ain near the Turkish border.

CNN: UN Report To Say Surface-to-Surface Missiles Delivered Up To 350 Liters Of Sarin

CNN cite a “diplomatic source” as saying that a UN report expected Monday will say the perpetrators of the August 21 chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs had up to 350 liters of sarin gas and used surface-to-surface missiles, some of which had “Cyrillic lettering” — indicating a Russian or Soviet missile — to deliver the attacks.

The source told CNN that the report will also give the trajectory of the missiles and that the details included in the report will indicate culpability even though the report is not expected to allocate blame.

Meanwhile, enlarged copies of an official photograph of the UN’s chemical weapons investigator handing over his report on the August 21 chemical weapons attacks on the Damascus suburbs shows that the report confirms that sarin was used.

An AP report has more details. According to AP, UN inspectors said, “the environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used … in the Ghouta area of Damascus” on Aug. 21…The conclusion is that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale.”

Lavrov: We Have Invited The Syrian Opposition To Visit Moscow

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Monday that Russia had offered that the leaders of the Syrian National Coalition visit Moscow.

“We’re not just talking about the need for the [Syrian] opposition to adopt the Russian-American initiative to convene the [Geneva II] conference. We are working with the opposition and we have been visited by almost all the leaders of the opposition groups, except for the National Coalition, which has an invitation” – Lavrov said.

Video: Regime Airstrikes In Al Sbeneh, Damascus Suburbs

With world media attention focussed on the events around the US-Russia agreement over Syria’s chemical weapons, the Assad regime on Monday continues its offensive against the Damascus suburbs. This footage shows smoke rising after regime warplanes struck the town of Al Sbeneh this morning.

Video: No Schools In Homs At The Start Of The Academic Year

This report by Homs-based activist, Abdullah Homsi shows destruction in the city of Homs, and says that the city’s schools have been destroyed.

Video: Youth In Besieged Homs Says International Community Has Betrayed Syria

A video filmed by the Homs-based activist, Abdullah Homsi, shows a young man in the besieged city of Homs as he speaks to camera, accusing the international community of being weak and betraying the Syrian people.

UN Commission of Inquiry: Agreement Over Chemical Weapons Will Not End The Syria Conflict

The chairman of the UN’s Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, warned Monday that the agreement between the US and Russia over Syria’s chemical weapons will not end the conflict.

In an oral briefing to the UN’s Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Pinheiro presented the most recent report from the Commission of Inquiry.

Pinheiro said,

The [Assad] Government has continued its relentless campaign of air bombardment and artillery shelling across the country. We have documented unlawful attacks in 12 of the 14 governorates. Shelling has been particularly intense in the cities of Damascus,Homs and Aleppo as well as their countrysides. Cluster munitions continue to be dropped on civilian areas, notably in Idlib governorate.

Pinhiero talked of indiscriminate attacks on civilians:

Survivors of an attack on a school in Awram al-Koubra, Aleppo countryside on 26August detail an incendiary bomb being dropped from a Government fighter jet. In the ensuing blaze, eight students died immediately. Fifty others, between 14-17 years old, suffered horrific burns over up to 80% of their bodies. Many are not expected to survive. There is no evidence of any opposition fighters or lawful targets near the school.

The Assad regime has used sieges as a “method of warfare”:

As the Government encircles eastern Al Ghouta in Damascus [the site of some of the August 21 chemical weapons attacks], and Nawa in Dara’a, army checkpoints prevent the flow of food, water, fuel and medicine into these areas, with devastating consequences for civilians inside. Sieges violate the fundamental rights to health, life, food and human dignity of the entrapped populations.

The Assad regime has arrested and tortured children, according to Pinhiero:

Children make up a large proportion of civilian casualties. They have been arbitrarily arrested and tortured. Children have been unlawfully detained in cells with adult detainees. The Government should take steps to release children from detention or to transfer them to a juvenile justice system consistent with both fair trial and children’s rights.

The Assad regime has also targeted hospitals, as recently as September 12 when regime warplanes attacked a field hospital near Aleppo city, reportedly killing 11 people, and wounding dozens more.

The report also talks of attacks made by Islamist factions against Kurdish groups, including in Aleppo Province in August; of hostage-taking of Kurds by Islamist factions; and of kidnappings of journalists by Islamist factions. The report also notes that Islamist brigades made up of foreign fighters are now active in Syria.

Activists Accuse Assad Of Barrel Bombing The Euphrates Dam

Activists and civilians in Syria are accusing the Syrian regime of deliberately targeting the Euphrates Dam in Al Tabaqa city (55 kms from Raqqa) with barrel bombs. The attacks could cause an environmental disaster, they say.

This footage (with English subtitles) is a report on the allegations:

Residents of towns on the Euphrates have already complained of severe water pollution caused by the ongoing fighting, which has caused pollutants including oil to spill into the river water.

What Did Lavrov Say About The Framework Agreement And Syria’s Chemical Weapons?

While Reuters suggest a disagreement between Moscow and Washington over the framework agreement, quoting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov as saying that there is no provision in the document for use of force, the Russian State media presents a different story.

RIA Novosti does not mention the use of force but cites Lavrov as saying that the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will accept the final terms for the removal and destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons, and the UN Security Council resolution will support it.

Lavrov said according to RIA Novosti:

The Russian-American initiative, which was approved in Geneva on the basis of relevant professional contribution from specialists from Russia and the United States, provides suggestions on timings and all essential parameters, but the final decision should be taken by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons…

With regard to the UN Security Council’s role… the Geneva document again clearly states that the Security Council will adopt a resolution … which, above all, will support the decision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons…

Has A US-Russia Political Argument Begun Over Framework Agreement?

Are the US and Russia already diverging over their framework agreement on Saturday for Syria to give up chemical weapons?

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has insisted — according to Reuters — that there is no provision for enforcement if the Assad regime does not comply, notably through Chapter 7 of the United Nations Charter.

US Secretary of State John Kerry apparently disagrees:

We are going to work hard to have a resolution that is as strong and forceful as possible. Russia did agree in Geneva that Chapter 7 is mentioned specifically as the route for compliance if there is non-compliance or any use of chemical weapons by anyone in Syria. Under both of those circumstances, use of weapon or non-compliance, you are already automatically under Chapter 7 according to the agreement we came out of Geneva with. So that mention is there.

The Training Camp Near Tehran for Syria’s Militia

Amid the hyperbole, political spin, and errors in an article in The Wall Street Journal, “Iranians Dial Up Presence in Syria”, these paragraphs are valuable:

[Shia] fighters “are told that the war in Syria is akin to [an] epic battle for Shiite Islam, and if they die they will be martyrs of the highest rank,” says an Iranian military officer briefed on the training camp, which is 15 miles outside Tehran and called Amir Al-Momenin, or Commander of the Faithful….

The Amir Al-Momenin camp, home to the Guards’ ballistic missile arsenal, is an important military installation. Shiite fighters are trained there in guerrilla warfare, field survival and the handling of heavy guns, according to Guards members and others who work in the camp. There are also daily religious classes….

Shiites from Yemen and Saudi Arabia are being trained for fighting inside Syria, say Guards officials and Iranian villagers who live near the facility.

Dozens of buses with tinted windows carrying the men have been arriving nightly at the base, which is surrounded by farmlands, they say. Many enter Iran under the pretext of being religious pilgrims, then are sent to Syria via Iraq.

That information matches testimony from Syrian militiamen that they have been in Iran for training. It also supports EA’s analysis of the recent video footage, obtained from a slain Iranian veteran involved with a documentary, that showed Iranian officers in Syria training Shia milita — including the emphasis on the “fight for Shia Islam”.

(Cross-posted from Iran Today)


Kerry: UN Resolution Not “Lifeline” for Assad

Previewing today’s report by United Nations inspectors and possible Security Council discussions on the Syrian regime’s stockpile and use of chemical weapons, US Secretary of State John Kerry has said any UN resolution is not a “lifeline” for President Assad, who has “lost all legitimacy”.

Speaking at a press conference in Paris alongside his French and British counterparts, Kerry said, “We will not tolerate any avoidance” by Damascus.

An Attack on Obama’s Leadership by US Officials Through the Wall Street Journal

In the guise of an in-depth report, The Wall Street Journal — using “more than two dozen interviews with senior White House, State Department, Pentagon and congressional officials and many of their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East” — has launched an attack of President Obama’s leadership:

When President Barack Obama decided he wanted congressional approval to strike Syria, he received swift —and negative — responses from his staff. National Security Adviser Susan Rice warned he risked undermining his powers as commander in chief. Senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer pegged the chances of Congress balking at 40%. His defense secretary also raised concerns.

Mr. Obama took the gamble anyway and set aside the impending strikes to try to build domestic and international support for such action.

He found little of either. Congress’s top leaders weren’t informed of the switch until just an hour or so before Mr. Obama’s Rose Garden announcement and weren’t asked whether lawmakers would support it. When the president’s chief of staff, Denis McDonough, announced the decision on a conference call with congressional committee leaders, some were so taken aback they seemed at first to misunderstand it.

The Journal summarizes:

Through mixed messages, miscalculations and an 11th-hour break, the U.S. stumbled into an international crisis and then stumbled out of it. A president who made a goal of reducing the U.S.’s role as global cop lurched from the brink of launching strikes to seeking congressional approval to embracing a deal with his biggest international adversary on Syria, Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Latest Scare Reports on the Insurgency

Two reports this morning making scary claims about “extremists” taking over the Syrian insurgency….

The Daily Telegraph uses a press release from IHS Jane’s and a sound-bite from one of its staff to proclaim, “Nearly Half Rebel Fighters are Jihadists or Hardline Islamists“.

See Syria Video Analysis: How Media Obsession with “Extremism” Misleads Us

There is no support in the article for the numbers: around 100,000 opposition fighters, “around 10,000 jihadists”, “another 30,000 to 35,000…hardline Islamists who share much of the outlook of the jihadists”, a “further 30,000 moderates”.

There is no definition of “hardline Islamists”, nor is there any evidence for the assertion, “Two factions linked to al-Qaeda…have come to dominate among the more extremist fighters.”

The article promises that the Jane’s report will be published later this week.

One media outlet is quick to celebrate the “findings”: Iran’s Press TV exults, “A British defense study shows that about 100,000 foreign-backed militants, fragmented into 1,000 groups, are fighting in Syria against the government and people.”

Meanwhile, CNN uses a suicide bombing in August’s insurgent capture of Menagh Province — an event exaggerated at the time by media — an interview with an activist, and other sweeping claims to portray the Islamic State of Iraq and as-Sham taking control of the insurgency.


The Local Coordination Committees claim 91 people were killed on Sunday, including 27 in Damascus and its suburbs and 14 in Aleppo Province.

The Violations Documentation Center puts the number of dead at 73,194 since the conflict began in March 2011, an increase of 112 from Sunday. Of the dead, 54,979 are civilians.

Monday Summary

SUMMARY: While the world awaits Monday’s report by United Nations inspectors into the August 21 chemical weapons attack near Damascus, the Assad regime is pressing its offensive near Damascus and in parts of northern Syria.

Sunday’s attacks included bombardment of the Damascus suburbs of Muaddamiyyat Ash-Shaam — site of one of the August 21 chemical strikes — and Daraya, shown in this video:

Footage emerged from earlier in the week of “barrel bombs” dropped on Saraqeb in Idlib Province and the bombing of a makeshift hospital in al-Bab in Aleppo, which has been pounded for several days by Syrian forces.

Meanwhile, the United Nations report, which is not mandated to ascribe responsibility for the August 21 attacks, is unlikely to have any political impact. It has been overtaken by the US-Russia framework agreement, adopted on Saturday, for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons stocks — and by the further military developments.