Labs expect delivery of UN Syrian chemical weapons samples today

Posted Sep 2, 2013 by Robert Myles
Samples collected by the United Nations chemical weapons inspectors from the suburbs of Damascus in Syria should be delivered to laboratories for analysis today, said a spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
U.N. chemical weapons experts visit a hospital where wounded people affected by a suspected gas atta...
U.N. chemical weapons experts visit a hospital where wounded people affected by a suspected gas attack are being treated, in a southwestern Damascus suburb, August 26, 2013
Mr. Ban’s spokesperson Martin Nesirky told reporters in New York yesterday, “The whole process will be done strictly adhering to the highest established standards of verification recognized by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”
The samples were taken following the release of chemical biotoxins in a number of districts east of the Syrian capital on August 21. Opposition forces in Syria and a number of Western countries, including the United States, have blamed Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad's forces for the chemical attacks, a charge the Syrian government has vehemently denied.
UN inspectors, as well as interviewing a number of eye-witnesses to the attacks which took place in the Ghouta region east of Damascus, took blood and hair samples from victims of the chemical attacks. A number of soil samples were taken as well potentially contaminated domestic animals.
US Secretary of State John Kerry referred in interviews on Sunday to blood and hair samples collected from the Ghouta attack having "tested positive for signatures of sarin gas," but didn’t elucidate on who’d obtained the samples he referred to or carried out the analysis.
The update from the UN followed a telephone conversation between the Secretary-General and Dr. Åke Sellström, head of the UN inspection team. Mr. Ban is reported to have asked Mr. Sellström to expedite sample analysis “without jeopardizing the scientific timelines required for accurate analysis and to report the results to him as soon as possible.”
Originally, analysis of the samples of obtained on the ground in Ghouta was projected to take some weeks. However, the UN spokesperson added that discussions had taken place concerning ways to further accelerate the analysis. The spokesperson stressed that the UN mission is “uniquely capable of establishing, in an impartial and credible manner, the facts of any use of chemical weapons based directly on evidence collected on the ground.”
Once analysis of the Ghouta samples is finalised, a report will be furnished to the Secretary-General, who will, in turn, convey the results of the UN inspectors’ analysis to all UN member states and the UN Security Council.
Given the impetus to complete analysis of the samples taken from around Damascus on an accelerated timescale, there is now every chance the results of the analysis will be made known before the US Congress meets (expected to be on, or shortly after, September 9) to debate President Obama’s request for authority to conduct narrowly defined but punitive military strikes against targets in Syria in response to the August 21 chemical weapons attacks.