A United Nations-appointed panel said on Thursday that the Syrian army was responsible for the lethal sarin gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun in April.
The panel, known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), said that it is “confident that the Syrian Arab Republic is responsible for the release of sarin at Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017”. The inquiry also found that the Islamic State (ISIS) had used sulphur mustard, a blister agent, in the village of Umm Hawash on September 15 and 16 of 2016.
This is not the first time the Joint Investigative Mechanism has concluded that the Syrian Government used chemical weapons. The inquiry previously found that government forces carried out chemical attacks on at least three occasions in 2014 and 2015. It also previously found that ISIS used chemical weapons in one case.
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the findings represented “an appalling breach of the rules of war,” and he called on “the international community to unite to hold [Bashar] Assad’s regime accountable”.
Mr. Johnson also criticized Russia’s repeated attempts “to disrupt efforts to get to the truth of the Khan Sheikhoun attack, denying sarin was even used,” as well as “vetoing a UN Resolution [on Tuesday] that would have extended the mandate of the investigative team.” According to Johnson’s statement, Russia’s veto on Tuesday was its ninth to protect the Syrian regime at the UN Security Council (UNSC), and its third to prevent the regime from being held accountable for its poison gas attacks.
The JIM was created in 2015 by the UN Security Council in order to determine who had been using chemical weapons in Syria.
Nikki Haley, the United States Ambassador to the UN, said in a statement, “Time and again, we see independent confirmation of chemical weapons use by the Assad regime. And in spite of these independent reports, we still see some countries trying to protect the regime. That must end now.”
Russia claims there were serious gaps in the panel’s investigation and expressed concern that investigators had not visited Khan Sheikhoun itself. The panel’s mandate will expire on November 16 and the UN Security Council must now decide whether to renew it.