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Evidence clear on nerve gas use
United Nations weapons inspectors found "clear and convincing" evidence that chemical weapons were used in the deadly attack in Syria that is estimated to have killed more than 1,400 people.
Environmental, chemical and medical samples collected in the aftermath of the assault last month on a rebel-held Damascus suburb show that rockets deployed in the attack contained nerve gas sarin, the team has reported.
It comes as Britain joined France and the United States to warn that the world must hold Syria to account if Bashar Assad fails to comply with an international proposal to destroy its chemical weapons.
Foreign Secretary William Hague and French counterpart Laurent Fabius were briefed in Paris by US secretary of state John Kerry on his deal with Russia for the international community to take control of the brutal regime's stockpile. Mr Hague said: "It is the Assad regime that has stockpiled these weapons and that has used them repeatedly against the Syrian people. So the pressure is on them to comply with this agreement in full. The world must be prepared to hold them to account if they don't and our three countries are certainly determined to do so."
The report by the UN inspectors, led by Ake Sellstrom, sets out evidence of the use of chemical weapons rather than who was responsible for deploying them. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon said last week that the Assad regime had "committed many crimes against humanity".
After the Paris talks, Mr Hague said the UK's first priority was to secure prompt action at the UN Security Council that enshrines in a resolution the Syrian regime's responsibility to hand over its chemical weapons stocks. He added the resolution should create a binding commitment for the regime to give up its weapons within a specific time-frame and to "credibly, reliably and promptly" place them under international control for destruction.
Under the agreement hammered out between Mr Kerry and Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva, the regime is required to submit a full inventory of its chemical stockpile by the end of the week, allow international inspectors into the country by November, and complete the surrender of its arsenal by mid 2014. Mr Hague said the allies are in agreement that the "credible threat of military force" played a role in bringing about an opening in relation to Syria and insisted the UK, US and France would use their "full weight" as permanent members of the UN Security Council to get the chemical weapons out of Syria and bring about a peaceful end to the brutal civil war.
Presenting the report, Mr Ban said the inspectors concluded that chemical weapons "were used on a relatively large scale" in the August 21 attack. "The results are overwhelming and indisputable. The facts speak for themselves," he said.
They had "collected clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used in the Ein Tarma, Moadamiyah and Zalmalka in the Ghouta area of Damascus".
Mr 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. 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."