The 38-page U.N. report concluded that much of the sarin used in the attack was hurled east of Damascus in unusually shaped, 330mm artillery rockets, similar to the one found protruding from the soil in the Zamalka suburb. The finding is significant, weapons experts say, because the rockets appear to be of a unique Syrian design, different from any of the shells and warheads associated with other producers of chemical arms.
The size of the warhead — capable of carrying more than 20 times as much liquid as other commonly used munitions — could account for the unexpectedly large number of deaths from the Aug. 21 attack, in which more than 1,000 people are estimated to have died, diplomats and weapons experts said.
Moreover, the 330mm rocket and its Iranian-built launching system are known to be tightly controlled by Syrian forces. Since the conflict began, there have been only a handful of accounts of government forces using such rockets and no reports of rebels acquiring either the weapons or the specialized launching tubes required to fire them, experts say.
“The U.N. report provides solid confirmation as to the . . . rockets used in the attack, and its evidence provides even greater proof that the government was responsible,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies program director at Human Rights Watch, which last week issued a study that also pointed to the rockets as vital clues linking the Syrian regime to the attack.
Although the U.N. report does not explicitly assign blame, Bouckaert said, its findings “point even more convincingly towards Syrian government responsibility,” citing not only the rockets’ remnants but also their flight path and the military-grade quality of the sarin that they contained.
“It points the finger directly at them,” he said.
The U.N. team’s report was the first official document to confirm the use of the unusual rockets, which have been cited in several reports by human rights activists and weapons experts who analyzed images of rocket motors and other parts found in neighborhoods hit by toxic gases in the pre-dawn hours of Aug. 21. Chemical warheads typically contain only a small amount of explosives — enough to disperse, but not incinerate, their toxic contents — and several of the rockets were relatively intact when U.N. investigators toured the affected neighborhoods last month.