Beirut: An international human rights group on Tuesday said that evidence "strongly suggests" Syrian government forces fired rockets with warheads containing a nerve agent, most likely sarin, into a Damascus suburb in August, killing hundreds of people.
The report by Human Rights Watch was released as the international community weighs how to respond to the attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, which the US, France and others also have blamed on President Bashar Assad`s forces. The regime blames the rebels.
President Barack Obama had been lobbying for targeted military strikes against regime positions, but a Russian proposal to put Assad`s chemical weapons arsenal under international control has raised hopes of a diplomatic breakthrough instead.
The US administration has insisted that there is very compelling evidence that the Syrian regime used chemical weapons against its own people, but it has not been presented to the public.
Human Rights Watch did not have direct access to the affected areas or the victims, but said its conclusions are based on witness accounts, the physical fragments of the weapons used and the symptoms exhibited by victims and documented by medical staff.
The New York-based group said it sought technical advice from an expert on the detection and effects of chemical warfare agents, and its experts studied documented medical symptoms of the victims and analysed activist videos posted on the Internet after the attack.
"This evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning," said Peter Bouckaert, HRW`s emergencies director.
Symptoms of the victims from the attack "provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used," he added.
Three doctors who treated victims told HRW that the exhibited a range of symptoms, including convulsions, frothing at the mouth and dizziness, all of which are consistent with exposure to nerve agents such as sarin.
The most toxic of the chemical weapons, nerve agents affect the nervous system and are hazardous in their liquid and gas states. They can be delivered in missiles, bombs, rockets, artillery shells and other large munitions. The Syrian regime is believed to possess tabun, sarin and VX.
HRW added that evidence related to the type of rockets and launchers used in the attack "strongly suggests" that the weapon systems used are known and documented to be only in the possession of Syrian forces.