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Syria

UN needs 'more evidence' in Syria chemical weapons probe

A UN body has told officials in Geneva it could not determine who had used chemical weapons in Syria. It also urged leaders to find a swift solution to end the civil war in light of the "new levels" of brutality.

UN human rights investigators presented the conclusions of their four-month long Syrian chemical weapons probe on Tuesday in Geneva. The group found evidence of the internationally-banned weapons used during the Syrian civil war in recent months. However, it could not conclude with certainty whether the perpetrators acted on behalf of the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's military or for opposition fighters.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used," said the group's director, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro (pictured above) at a news conference in Geneva.

The commission sought to validate allegations of chemical weapons used in Aleppo and Damascus provinces on March 19; the city of Aleppo on April 13; and Idlib province on April 29.

Between January and May, the investigators conducted several hundred interviews via Skype, in addition to collecting testimony in person from refugees in neighboring Middle Eastern countries.

"It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator," he added.

'New levels of brutality'

Eye witness accounts of the toxic agents motivated international leaders to renew diplomatic efforts aimed at finding a political solution to the Syrian civil war. In early May, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced plans to organize an international peace conference this summer, dubbed "Geneva 2," where they hope to bring al-Assad and the opposition coalition to the negotiation table.

Tuesday's report called on international leaders to give equal importance to the daily crimes against humanity perpetrated with the use of traditional weapons, not chemical weapons.

"The documented violations are consistent and widespread, evidence of a concerted policy implemented by the leaders of Syria's military and government," it said in its latest report.

Both sides had committed murder, torture and other inhumane acts, according to the report. However, al-Assad's forces had perpetrated these crimes on a larger scale compared to the opposition fighters.

The report urged leaders to reconsider laws allowing them to ship weapons to the region. Moscow has been transporting arms to al-Assad's regime, contending that the shipments were from contracts before the war. An EU embargo on sending weapons to Syria expired at the end of May, allowing member states to arm the Syrian opposition.

"The desperation of the parties to the conflict has resulted in new levels of cruelty and brutality, bolstered by an increase in the availability of weapons," the experts said.

The UN estimates that over 80,000 have died in the Syrian civil war, which recently entered its third year. Fighting has displaced several million people, at least one million of those fleeing into neighboring countries.

kms/ng (AFP, Reuters, dpa)