Syria: Assad Regime's April Chemical Weapons Attack Was a War Crime, U.N. Says

The Syrian Government of Bashar al-Assad has carried out 20 separate chemical weapons attacks since March 2013 including the attacks on Khan Sheikhoun that killed dozens, the U.N. has said, decrying the April bombing as a war crime.

In a report by the international body's war crimes investigators, released Wednesday, the U.N. has said for the first time that it believes the Syrian regime in Damascus was behind the attacks with the deadly nerve agent sarin earlier this year in rebel-held Idlib province.

Read More: What is Sarin Gas, the Chemical Weapon That Has Killed Over 70 in Syria?

The U.N.'s finding that the attacks, which killed more than 80 civilians, most of them women and children, constitute a war crime has vindicated the U.S. and its allies. A U.S. intelligence report in the immediate aftermath of the attack indicated that the sarin gas was dropped on Khan Sheikhoun by Syrian government aircraft flying out of Shayrat Airfield.

On the basis of that intelligence and in response to the strikes, on April 6 President Donald Trump approved the launching of 59 cruise missiles targeting Syrian government military installations including the Shayrat Airfield.

A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah

The international independent chemical weapons watchdog, the Organisation for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said in April that it had incontrovertible proof that sarin gas or a similar substance had been released in the Syrian town. However, it is only now that the U.N. has said it believes the Assad regime was behind the attacks.

"Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas. In the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children," the report said.

"Syrian forces attacked Khan Sheikhoun with a sarin bomb at approximately 6:45 a.m. on 4 April, constituting the war crimes of using chemical weapons and indiscriminate attacks in a civilian inhabited area," it added.

The U.N. inspectors said they had documented 25 chemical weapons attacks over the course of the civil war in Syria. Seven were carried out over the period surrounding the Khan Sheikhoun bombing from March to July of this year. The investigators are yet to identify who carried out five earlier attacks.

President Assad has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons against his own people. In an interview with AFP, Assad said his forces could not have been responsible for the strikes because his regime in Damascus had given up all its chemical weapons.

The Syrian leader was referring to a 2014 deal in which his government agreed to surrender stockpiles of chemical weapons to U.N. inspectors. The arrangement was brokered by Russia after 1,300 people were killed in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta in a separate sarin gas attack.

The U.N. has now said the Syrian government has contravened the 2013 resolution that established the deal. Its investigators have also refuted claims that Syrian forces hit a rebel depot containing sarin gas, dispersing it accidentally during the Khan Sheikhoun attacks.