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September 17, 2013

UN Report on Syria Leaves Little Doubt about Chemical Weapons

by Jeff Seldin

There is a growing consensus that details contained in a U.N. report of last month’s chemical attack in Syria leave little doubt as to who was responsible.  Military analysts say the direction from which the rockets were fired and other factors point squarely to the Assad government even as Syria's allies continue to offer a different narrative.

Around the Syrian capital, the skyline is punctuated by pillars of dark smoke.  Neighborhoods hit by chemical weapons look like ghost towns.

A contrast to the panic and suffering of a month ago.

Now, after U.N. inspectors released their report, experts like Salman Shaikh from The Brookings Doha Center say there can be no doubt as to what happened.

“I don’t think we should labor this point today in terms of who did it.  It’s quite clear that the regime did it,“ Shaikh said.

To back up the claim, analysts point to the work of the U.N. inspectors, who pored over the evidence and made detailed notes on how and where the rockets landed.

Based on that, analysts at Human Rights Watch mapped the paths of two rockets from their point of impact to a likely point of origin, a Syrian military base.

Other military analysts point out the rebels simply don't have access to the types of surface-to-surface rockets used in the August 21 attack.

But in Moscow Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted questions remain.

"We want the events of the 21st of August to be impartially, objectively, professionally investigated," he said. "We have serious grounds to believe that it was a provocation."

Such doubts give hope to supporters of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, being forced only to hand over his chemical weapons to international control and nothing more.

“It clearly is so far demonstrating that you can use these weapons and there is relatively little accountability," said Brookings analyst Shaikh.

Many analysts fear that message will only set the stage for more intense fighting and more Syrian skylines sullied by smoke.