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U.N. report concludes that chemical weapons were used in Syrian conflict

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Chemical weapons have been used at least five times during the Syrian conflict and in some cases children have been slaughtered, according to a UN report released Thursday.

The report cites “credible evidence” and “evidence consistent with the probable use of chemical weapons” in the Syrian sites of Ghouta, Khan Al Asal, Jobar, Saraqueb and Ashrafieh Sahnaya.

But the UN said it could not corroborate their use in two of seven sites studied — Bahhariyeh and Sheik Maqsood.

“The United Nations Mission concludes that chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic,” said the report, prepared by a team of experts led by Swede Ake Sellstrom.

However, the report does not attribute blame for the attacks, as this was beyond the mandate given the team by the UN Security Council.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has admitted his forces hold chemical weapons, and has vowed to surrender them to international experts. But he insists his forces did not target civilians.

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Western and Arab governments, human rights groups and Syrian rebels accuse the regime of carrying out the attacks. Assad and his allies in Moscow and Tehran blame the rebels.

Sellstrom, who led an investigative mission to Syria, had already provided a preliminary report to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on September 16.

That report concluded that banned chemical weapons had been used on a wide scale and that there was clear evidence that sarin gas was used in an attack in the Eastern Ghouta neighborhood near Damascus on August 21.

The final report said the mission “collected clear and convincing evidence that chemical weapons were used also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale” on that day in Ghouta.

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“A number of patients/survivors were clearly diagnosed as intoxicated by an organophosphorous compound,” the report said.

“Blood and urine samples from the same patients were found positive for sarin and sarin signatures.”

The inspectors collected “credible information” corroborating allegations that chemical weapons were used in Khan Al Asal on March 19 against soldiers and civilians.

In Jobar, near Damascus, the inspectors “collected evidence consistent with the probable use of chemical weapons” there on “a relatively small scale against soldiers” on August 24.

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But the report said it could not “establish the link between the victims, the alleged event and the alleged site” due to the “absence of primary information on the delivery system(s) and environmental samples collected and analysed under the chain of custody.”

In Saraqueb, the mission collected evidence “that suggests that chemical weapons were used” on a small scale there — “also against civilians” — on April 29 of this year.

In Ashrafiah Sahnaya, near Damascus, the inspectors collected evidence that “suggests” chemical weapons were used there on August 25 “on a small scale against soldiers.”

Here again, however, it was not able to establish the link between the alleged event, the alleged site and the survivors due to absence of primary information on the delivery system(s) and environmental samples, according to the report.

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Another factor, it said, was that samples collected by the inspectors “one week and one month” after the alleged incident tested negative.

In Bahhariyeh and Sheik Maqsood, where the use of chemical weapons is alleged to have occurred on August 22 and April 13 respectively, the UN could not corroborate the claims.

In Bahhariyeh this was due to the absence of positive blood samples, it said.

The Syrian regime had accused the opposition of using chemical weapons in Khan Al Asal, as well as in Jobar, Ashrafiah Sahnaya and Bahhariyeh.

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The other alleged incidents were reported by the opposition or by Western countries supporting them.

The report, presented to Ban by Sellstrom on Thursday, has been distributed to Security Council members. The panel was expected to take it up on Monday.

Ban was due to present it to General Assembly on Friday.

When he received the report, Ban called the use of chemical weapons “a grave violation of international law and an affront to our shared humanity.”

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“We need to remain vigilant to ensure that these awful weapons are eliminated, not only in Syria, but everywhere.”

Under an international agreement brokered to avoid US military strikes on the Damascus regime — which resulted in a landmark Security Council resolution — Syria’s most dangerous chemical weapons have to be out of the country by a December 31 deadline and destroyed by June 30, 2014.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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Lawrence O’Donnell throttles Donny Deutsch for saying Elizabeth Warren can’t beat Trump: ‘This is pure guesswork’

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Lawrence O'Donnell and Donny Deutsch had quite the exchange in the post-debate conversation on MSNBC Wednesday.

Deutsch tried to say that Sen. Elizabeth Warren's outstanding debate performance doesn't matter because Warren can't win in a match-up against President Donald Trump.

"I do not believe Elizabeth Warren, on stage with Donald Trump, beats him," he told the MSNBC panel. "And I think if we're honest with ourselves and we look hard at ourselves, I think a lot of people agree with me. It's — and I also think when you can label somebody a socialist, 57 percent of this country thinks that word is un-American. I'm not saying it's fair. When he can blanket Elizabeth Warren as a socialist, and he's on stage with her, the Democrats lose."

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Father and daughter drowning at the border fuels anger at Trump immigration policies

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A shocking photograph of a Salvadoran man and his baby daughter drowned in the Rio Grande fueled a surge of emotion around the world Wednesday -- as US Democrats furiously denounced Donald Trump's immigration policies.

"Trump is responsible for these deaths," said Beto O'Rourke, one of several Democratic White House hopefuls who took to Twitter to lash out at the president.

Former vice president Joe Biden, who is also seeking the presidency in 2020, called the image "gut-wrenching."

"History will judge how we respond to the Trump administration's treatment of immigrant families & children -- we can't be silent," he said.

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Senator Elizabeth Warren leads Democrats in spirited first 2020 debate

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Ten Democrats clashed in the first debate of the 2020 presidential race Wednesday with Elizabeth Warren cementing her status as a top-tier candidate and several underdogs using the issue of immigration to clamor for the limelight.

The biggest American political debate since the 2016 presidential campaign is occurring over two nights in Miami, climaxing Thursday with former vice president Joe Biden squaring off against nine challengers, including number two candidate Bernie Sanders.

But Wednesday's first take was a spirited encounter between Democrats like ex-congressman Beto O'Rourke, Senator Cory Booker, former San Antonio mayor Julian Castro and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on subjects as varied as health care, economic inequality, climate action, gun violence, Iran and immigration.

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