Syria war: Inquiry finds government forces responsible for third gas attack

An international inquiry has found Syrian government forces were responsible for a third toxic gas attack, according to a confidential report submitted to the UN Security Council.

The finding sets the stage for a showdown between Russia and western council members over how to respond.

The fourth report from the 13-month-long inquiry by the United Nations and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the global chemical weapons watchdog, blamed Syrian government forces for a toxic gas attack in Qmenas in Idlib governorate on March 16, 2015, according to a text of the report seen by Reuters.

The third report by the inquiry in August blamed the Syrian government for two chlorine attacks — in Talmenes on April 21, 2014 and Sarmin on March 16, 2015 — and said Islamic State militants had used sulfur mustard gas.

The results set the stage for a Security Council showdown between the five veto-wielding powers, likely pitting Russia and China against the United States, Britain and France over how those responsible should be held accountable.

Following the submission of the third report, Russia said the conclusions could not be used to impose UN sanctions.

The report submitted on Friday said that Syrian government forces had used helicopters to drop barrel bombs, which then released chlorine gas.

It found those helicopter flights originated from two bases where the 253 and 255 squadrons, belonging to the 63rd helicopter brigade, were based.

It added that the 618 squadron, with navy helicopters, was also located at one of the bases.

However, the inquiry said that it “could not confirm the names of the individuals who had command and control of the helicopter squadrons at the time.”

But it added that those “with effective control in the military units … must be held accountable.”