UNITED NATIONS — Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Friday he believes there will be "an overwhelming report" from U.N. inspectors that chemical weapons were used in an attack in Syria on Aug. 21, but he did not say who was responsible.
The Syrian government and rebels blame each other for the attack in the Damascus suburb of Ghouta. The Obama administration, which says 1,429 people were killed, has said it has evidence that clearly indicates the Syrian government was behind the attack. But Russia, a key ally of Syria, has said it is not convinced by the U.S. evidence.
The U.N. inspectors have a mandate to determine whether chemical weapons were used — and if so, which agent — not to establish who was responsible. But two U.N. diplomats said the report could point to the perpetrators, saying that the inspectors collected many samples from the attack and also interviewed doctors and witnesses.
Ban spoke shortly before the chief chemical weapons inspector, Ake Sellstrom, told The Associated Press that he would deliver his report to the secretary-general in New York this weekend. U.N. diplomats said Ban was expected to brief the Security Council about it on Monday morning. The spoke anonymously because the time was not yet final.
A senior U.S. intelligence official, meanwhile, said the U.S. reached its own figure for the dead in Ghouta by analyzing videos taken in the hours after the attack and counting the number of people who appeared to have died by chemical attack, including bodies under bloodless shrouds — a sign that they probably did not die by rocket fire or some other conventional means.
U.S. lawmakers were also shown transcripts of the communications intercepts of Syrian officials discussing the attack both before and afterward — including a conversation where one Syrian commander told the military's chemical weapons unit to cease firing, because they'd done enough damage, according to a congressional official.