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Russian report says sarin used in Syria – by rebels

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Aleppo Media Center AMC / AP

(Read caption) In this citizen journalism image, buildings are seen damaged by Syrian government airstrikes and shelling in Aleppo, Syria, Monday, July 8. A month after the US joined France and Britain in accusing the Syrian government of using sarin gas weapons on its own people, a Russian report alleges that sarin was used – but by the Western-backed rebels.

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A month after the United States joined France and Britain in accusing the Syrian government of using sarin gas weapons on its own people, Russian officials have also concluded that sarin was used in Syria – but by the Western-backed rebels.

Deutsche Welle reports that on Tuesday Russian envoy to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin gave UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Russia's 80-page report, which he said "established" that rebel forces fired a sarin-loaded rocket at Khan al-Assal, a suburb of the battleground city of Aleppo, on March 19.

Russian investigators at a laboratory certified by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said the rocket – known as a Basha'ir-3 – was not a military-standard chemical weapon, and "Therefore, there is every reason to believe that it was armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal," said Mr. Churkin.

The Associated Press writes that Churkin said the Basha'ir-3 rocket is a product of "the so-called 'Basha'ir al-Nasr' brigade affiliated with the Free Syrian Army," with production starting in February. He continued that the sarin appeared to be made recently as well.

Churkin said the results indicate [the sarin-loaded rocket] "was not industrially manufactured and was filled with sarin." He said the samples indicated the sarin and the projectile were produced in makeshift "cottage industry" conditions, and the projectile "is not a standard one for chemical use."

The absence of chemical stabilizers, which are needed for long-term storage and later use, indicated its "possibly recent production," said Churkin.

UN spokesman Martin Mesirky said that the Russian report would be "studied," adds Deutsche Welle.

The March 19 attack on Khan al-Assal left at least 27 people dead and dozens injured, reports BBC News, and both Britain and France told the UN in late March that evidence and witnesses suggested that chemical weapons were used on the site. However, both nations and the US last month pointed the finger at the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

Both the US and Britain expressed doubt about the Russian findings, the BBC adds.

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Following Mr Churkin's announcement, a UK government spokesman told the BBC: "We will examine whatever is presented to us, but to date we have seen no credible reporting of chemical weapons use by the Syrian opposition, or that the opposition have obtained chemical weapons."

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the US had also "yet to see any evidence that backs up the assertion that anybody besides the Syrian government has the ability to use chemical weapons, [or] has used chemical weapons".

"Our ability as an international community to investigate the use of chemical weapons in Syria is hampered by Assad's refusal to allow a United Nations investigation."

That Syrian rebels made their own sarin gas, as implied by the Russian report, is not beyond possibility, however. Multiple articles on the Internet describe the process as not difficult, including this November 2001 story by Scientific American, which says there are several "well-known" recipes for the gas. Still, the process is highly dangerous – in a 1995 article concerning that year's sarin gas attack on a Japanese subway, chemical weapons expert Gregory Jones told The Boston Globe that "It's not so hard to manufacture sarin. It's hard to stay alive while making it," as even a single drop of the substance is lethal.

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