The UN investigators recently confirmed the used of sarin gas in rebel held areas near Damascus on 21 August 2013. However, the investigation did not address the question of who did it. This ambiguity led the West (namely the US, France and UK) to quickly point their fingers at Assad forces as the culprit.
The UN inspectors took samples from soil, rocket shells, hair, urine and blood at areas in Damascus suburbs held by the rebels where the gas attacked happened. They concluded that there were large scale use of chemical attack citing evidences from soil and blood sample as well as shell fragments. But some observers have doubts about the impartiality of the UN inspection team. Japanese freelance journalist Yoich Shimatsu has this to say about the head investigator, Ake Selstrom, a Swedish bio-chemist:
The UN report of chemical weapons on Syria lacks basic credibility due to the duplicitous record of its chief inspector, Ake Sellstrom, who is politically and financially compromised at every level. An impartial fact-finding mission of credible international experts is required, but it would have no chance of conducting a fair investigation so long as Washington provides weapons and political support to the insurgency, including its Al Qaeda faction.
The Russians are unhappy that they UN inspectors chose to ignore chemical weapon attack evidence presented by Assad regime. Others feel that the UN investigators did not have full access due to security fears and inadequate time to conduct a proper investigation.
A group headed by a Catholic nun in Syrian have been analysing YouTube videos on chemical attack that were sourced from the rebel. The group believe these videos which were produced by the rebels contain staged scenes for propaganda purpose. The basis for the doubts are :
- the overwhelming number of gas attack victims shown on video were not adult but children. Why are there comparatively fewer adults? And where were the parents of these kids? Surely there would be scenes of uncontrolled wailing by parents of seeing their kids being killed. Instead we are presented with videos of children bodies arranged in makeshift morgue, in the presence of a few adults.
- the attacks were supposed to take place in war zone area with rebel forces hiding in buildings and government forces assaulting them with heavy fires. The area is almost deserted except for the die-hard rebels and perhaps their close relatives. Most of the civilians and children would have left ages ago. How could there such large concentration of children in the area?
It is certainty possible for Assad forces to conduct chemical warfare attack. It might even be used without his approval by a military commander. The only drawback is the motive factor. The use of chemical weapon is a crime against humanity that will warrant outside military intervention. Assad knows very well the backlash of world opinion against his regime and his supporters for using chemical weapon.
It is also a possibility that the chemical attack have been staged by the rebels to bring about Western intervention. This is the Russian perspective. But the UN inspection team has concluded that were ‘overwhelming and undisputed’ evidence of large scale chemical attacks. If we follow the logic based on UN finding, it will be difficult for the rebels to stage such an event. But if we hold the view of the UN finding as being inadequate (biased investigators, failure to consider evidence provided by the government side, the lack of access and short-time for investigation), the possibility of the chemical attacks being staged becomes stronger.
My personal view is that the UN finding as inadequate. The UN investigators need to establish what actually happened by gathering facts presented by all sides, conducting extensive interviews and on-site visits and trace all the victims. Until then, the evidence provided UN chemical-expert team can never be overwhelming and undisputed. And the impasse on the chemical attack in Syrian continues, with neither side giving in.