Paulo Pinheiro, chair of the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria. Photo: UN
ERBIL, Kurdistan Region — War crimes investigators from the United Nations have reported that the Syrian government used war planes to drop sarin gas in Khan Sheikhoun in April, and the United States lacked information prior to a deadly mosque bombing in Al-Jina in March.
"Government forces continued the pattern of using chemical weapons against civilians in opposition-held areas," read the UN report.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has denied responsibility for the April 4 attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun in the rebel-held Idlib province that killed dozens of people, including children.
"In the gravest incident, the Syrian air force used sarin in Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, killing dozens, the majority of whom were women and children."
Photos and videos after the incident showed victims with signs of suffocation, convulsions, foaming at the mouth and pupil constriction.
The statement presented to the UN in Geneva added that the act was considered a "war crime." Since the Syrian civil war began in 2011, UN investigators have released 14 reports alleging 33 chemical weapons attacks — 27 by the government including 7 between March 1 and July 7. The report stated it was not able to identify perpetrators of the six other attacks.
The Syrian regime has maintained it hadn’t used chemical weapons and blamed opposition fighters for stockpiling the chemicals; however, the investigators dismissed that claim.
A Syrian deputy foreign minister told his country's state-run SANA news agency in August that the United States, United Kingdom and Turkey have supplied “toxic materials and weapons” to groups there.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said the toxic agents were released when a Syrian airstrike hit a rebel chemical weapons arsenal and munitions factory. Russia is a close ally of Assad.
Prior to a UN investigation, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council draft resolution that aimed to impose sanctions on Assad's regime in March.
The UN and The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) are jointly working on a separate report regarding the Khan Sheikhoun incident. It is expected to be published in October.
Russia has also insisted that investigators be chosen from around the world.
The United States was also cited in the report for what they claim were legal strikes against Al Qaeda militants at a mosque.
"The United States targeting team lacked an understanding of the actual target, including that it was part of a mosque where worshippers gathered to pray every Thursday," reads the UN report.
Locals told the commission that the meetings were "a regular occurrence" and a "religious gathering."
"In al-Jina, Aleppo, forces of the United States of America failed to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects when attacking a mosque, in violation of international humanitarian law," stated the report, adding that about two dozen people were killed.