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article imageSyria sarin attack bears regime 'hallmarks': Western govts

By AFP     Nov 8, 2017 in World

A presumed chemical attack which just preceded another that killed dozens in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun last April bears the hallmarks of the Damascus regime, Western governments said Wednesday.

UN investigators said last month they had evidence that Damascus was behind the Khan Sheikhun attack -- something Syria's ally Russia rejects -- as well as a similar atrocity in the area five days earlier.

And a joint statement Wednesday by Boris Johnson, Jean-Yves Le Drian and Sigmar Gabriel, foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson found an earlier attack on the town of Al Lataminah "bears the hallmarks of the Syrian regime".

Their statement followed a finding last month by the UN's OPCW-United Nations Joint Investigative Mechanism that Damascus was behind the Khan Sheikhun attack.

Wednesday's statement underlined the signatory nations' "full trust" in the investigators' "professionalism and independence".

It noted the OPCW (Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) had indicated a March 30 sarin gas attack which injured some 50 people "more than likely" took place in Al Lataminah, just 15 kilometres (10 miles) from Khan Sheikhun in opposition-held northern Idlib province.

"The OPCW did not identify a perpetrator, but the attack it described bears the hallmarks of the Syrian regime," the Western powers stated.

The April 4 attack which followed left 83 dead, according to UN sources and 87 according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A UN report in October blamed Damascus for that attack but the regime and its Russian ally rejected all blame.

Johnson, Le Drian, Gabriel and Tillerson urged a "robust international response" to hold those responsible to account and seek justice for attack victims, saying the UN Security Council and its members must protect international non-proliferation accords.

They added the international community should keep pressure on the Syrian regime for its alleged use of banned arms while noting Islamic State jihadists have also been accused of using chemical weapons.

The JIM's official mandate to continue its investigations expires on November 16.

Investigative panel head Edmond Mulet says experts have established sarin was dropped in an air strike and that Syrian aircraft were in the area when the Khan Sheikhun attack took place.

Russia says the report is not credible as experts did not go to Khan Sheikhun but worked off samples Moscow says could have been tampered with.

Moscow says it it is willing for investigators to continue their work for another six months on condition they shelve their report into that attack.

Washington meanwhile backs an 18-month JIM extension to determine who is behind chemical attacks in Syria's six-year war.

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