Chemical weapons use in Syria reaching ‘new levels of brutality’: UN

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A UN report on Syria says limited quantities of unknown chemical agents have been used in at least four attacks in a civil war that has reached “new levels of brutality.” It said there’s proof of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Commission of Inquiry on Syria, tasked since 2011 with investigating human rights violations, said it had “reasonable grounds” to believe rebels have used toxic agents, although the “majority” of attacks were probably committed by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Commission inquiry chair Paulo Pinheiro told reporters in Geneva that investigators could not “determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator.” Conclusive proof may be obtained from test samples taken from victims or the soil of suspected areas, but so far Damascus has barred a team of experts from the country.

The UN report came as French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius claimed to have conclusive evidence sarin gas was used in Syria. Laboratory tests there “prove the presence of sarin in the samples in our possession,” he said in a Tuesday statement cited by the Associated Press, saying it “now is certain that sarin gas was used in Syria multiple times and in a localized way.”

The statement did not get into whom is believed responsible for using the deadly nerve agent in Syria, according to France24, but did say “[i]t would be unacceptable that those guilty of these crimes benefit from impunity.” Also Tuesday, Britain said it had also found evidence of sarin gas use in Syria, reported AP.

The UN report, without much detail, lists the time and locations of four alleged chemical attacks: The Khan al-Asal neighborhood of Aleppo and Uteibah, both on March 19, the Sheikh Maqsood district of Aleppo on April 13, and on the northwestern town of Saraqab on April 29.

Syria’s UN ambassador Faysal Khabbaz Hamoui dismissed the report, saying the commission “excessively exaggerated their conclusions and outcomes” and “totally neglects the substantial events, or even marginalizes them.”

Commission member Carla del Ponte, a former war crimes prosecutor, warned that the issue of chemical agents could overshadow the mass suffering of Syrians in a war that has killed more than 94,000 people and displaced millions.

“We have so many deaths in Syria now… so please don’t make the use of chemical weapons in Syria now the most important issue,” she told reporters. The UN report says at least 17 new massacres are under review, which makes a total of 30 since September.

“The war in Syria is a major catastrophe of our time,” Pinheiro said. “Syria is in free-fall,” and “brutality has become a tactic of war,” including forcing child hostages to witness torture, and 86 child combatants killed.

The report comes a day after US Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States had arrived “late” to the Syrian peace process, with political unrest now quickly escalating in neighboring Turkey. “This is a very difficult process, which we come too late,” Kerry said after a State Department meeting with Poland’s foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski.

“We are trying to prevent the sectarian violence from dragging Syria down into a complete and total implosion where it has broken up into enclaves, and the institutions of the state have been destroyed, with God knows how many additional refugees and how many innocent people killed,” Kerry added.

The UN commission urged the international community to find a diplomatic solution that would include all Syrians, and called on world leaders to restrict arms sales feeding the war, despite a recently lifted EU arms embargo on Syria and Russia’s sale of the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system to Damascus. It’s unclear when those missiles will arrive.

Russian S-300 missiles haven’t made it to Syria, but MiG fighter jets might

Russian media reports suggested the S-300 missiles have not made it into Assad’s hands yet, but fighter jets might be.

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Russia has not yet delivered the rumored S-300 air defense missile systems to Syria, Russian media reports said Friday.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who can count Moscow as his last remaining ally, seemed to imply on Thursday that part of the controversial shipment had arrived, without referring to the missiles by name.

The S-300 missiles would make a no-fly zone in Syrian air space particularly hard to establish, and would make it possible to shoot down aircrafts in the air above neighbors Turkey and Israel.

A source close to the Defense Ministry in Moscow reportedly said the “hardware itself” had not arrived yet, though the contract was still in place, Reuters reported.

Sources quoted by Russian outlets Kommersant and Vedomosti also said that no delivery of missiles had taken place. Vedomosti said the S-300 contract was worth $1 billion and was agreed upon in 2010.

More from GlobalPost: US woman among 3 Westerners killed fighting for Syrian rebels

Meanwhile, Russia aircraft maker MiG said Friday that it planned to sign an agreement that would send 10 fighter jets to Syria. Sergei Korotkov, MiG’s director general, said a delegation from Syria was discussing the contract for the MiG-29 M/M2 fighters, according to the Associated Press.

The AP noted that he could be referring to a previous deal that was put on hold during Syria’s civil war.

The war between Assad’s troops and Syrian rebels has claimed more than 80,000 people according to United Nations estimates, and the conflict is threatening to spill over the country’s borders.

The UN Security Council on Friday blacklisted Jabhat al-Nusra, one of the rebel factions fighting against Assad, as an alias of Al Qaeda in Iraq. The decision will place the extremist group under sanctions including an arms embargo, a freeze on assets and a travel ban.

Jabhat al-Nusra was designated a terrorist organization by the United States in December 2012.

Eastern Afghanistan airstrike kills 10 children

Up to 12 civilians, including 10 children, are reported dead in the eastern Afghanistan airstrike by NATO forces.

April 7, 2013 11:34

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At least 10 children are among the dead following a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan.

Seven suspected Taliban militants and at least five women were also killed in the airstrike yesterday, which followed a fierce weekend gunbattle with militants in the Kunar province, according to The Associated Press.

Reuters reported that 11 children died as a result of the strike.

Civilian deaths have long been a source of tension between international forces and the Afghan government, prompting President Hamid Karzai to ban his forces from requesting NATO airstrikes earlier this year.

The Interior Ministry made no mention of civilian casualties in yesterday’s incident.

But Wasifullah Wasify, a government official in Kunar province, told the AP a civilian home had been targeted, resulting in the deaths of women and children.

At least 10 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in a NATO airstrike in the same area last February, BBC News reported.

Yesterday’s deaths came on the same day that a car bomb killed five Americans, including three US soldiers, a young diplomat and a US Defense Department contractor, in southern Afghanistan.