Although it officially takes no stance on the culprit behind the August 21 chemical attack in Syria, two separate examinations of the U.N. report uncovered small details that suggest Syria's military was almost certainly behind the attack. The New York Times' C.J. Chivers and Human Rights Watch's Josh Lyons, a satellite imagery specialist, examined details buried in the U.N. report released Tuesday that concluded definitively chemical weapons were used in Syria without implicating either side. Both came to the same conclusion through separate, independent investigations: the rockets carrying sarin gas were fired from Syria's Mount Qasioun, where on one side rests the Presidential Palace, on the other a so-far-impregnable regime military base where the Republican Guard 104th Brigade is stationed. "Connecting the dots provided by these numbers allows us to see for ourselves where the rockets were likely launched from and who was responsible," Lyons said in a statement on Tuesday.
U.N. inspectors included details about the angles of the rockets, both how they landed and the direction they seemingly came from. The U.N., Chivers and Lyons stop short of declaring that the rockets definitely came from Syrian military outposts, but they make a very strong case, as explained here by Shivers with a map illustrated by Lyons:
At one impact site, investigators found both the place where the rocket had passed through a “vegetal screen” above a wall just before it hit the ground, and the small impact crater itself.
They noted that “the line linking the crater and the piercing of the vegetal screen can be conclusively established and has a bearing of 35 degrees.”
At another impact area in another section of Damascus, a 330-millimeter rocket landed on what investigators described as “earthy, relatively soft ground, where the shaft/engine of the projectile remained dug in, undisturbed until investigated.”
The rocket’s shaft, the investigators noted, “pointed precisely in a bearing of 285 degrees.”
Chivers and Lyons can't say this proves Syria's military, and by extension president Bashar al-Assad, was responsible for the attack. "This isn't conclusive, given the limited data available to the UN team, Lyons said, "but it is highly suggestive and another piece of the puzzle." A senior American intelligence official told Chivers that U.S. satellite data "confirmed rocket launches that corroborated the United Nations data and the Human Rights Watch analysis for one of the strikes."
After weeks of telling the world to wait for the U.N. report before drawing any conclusions, Russia decried the report Tuesday morning for being biased and inconclusive. "We are disappointed, to put it mildly, about the approach taken by the U.N. secretariat and the U.N. inspectors, who prepared the report selectively and incompletely," deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov. (He also happens to be in Syria for talks with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem.) "Without receiving a full picture of what is happening here, it is impossible to call the nature of the conclusions reached by the U.N. experts ... anything but politicised, preconceived and one-sided," Ryabkov said. Ryabkov also claimed Russia has evidence that rebel forces were behind the attack. Maybe he didn't appreciate the Cyrillic markings that seemingly connected the rockets to Russia.
Assad, for one, thanked Russia for its continued support through this "savage attack."