UN inspectors will blame Assad for chemical attack, says report
President Putin's claim that rebels launched attack to be dealt serious blow by UN report due on Monday
A REPORT by United Nations inspectors will "point the finger of blame" at the Assad regime for the 21 August chemical weapons attack in the Damascus suburbs, The Times says.
The report, which is due to be published on Monday, will include a "wealth of evidence" that a chemical nerve agent was used and the Syrian government was responsible for unleashing it, the paper says. The evidence will include the discovery of "spent rocket casings" that point strongly to the involvement of the regime.
The inspectors' findings will put Russia's President Putin "on the back foot" because he has stated publicly his belief that Syrian rebels were responsible for the attack. In a letter published in the New York Times, Putin said they had most likely used the banned weapons to "provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons".
US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, will begin their second day of talks in Geneva today. US officials described the first day of talks as "comprehensive", but The BBC's Paul Adams says it is clear there are still "large disagreements" between the two sides.
It is understood that Kerry rejected yesterday a proposal by Syria that it would hand over its chemical weapons within 30 days. The timeline was considered "too lengthy".
"This is not a game," Kerry said at a press conference last night. "It [the disarmament plan] has to be real, it has to be comprehensive, it has to be verifiable, it has to be credible. Expectations are high and the Russians must deliver on that pressure."
The UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi - who has been "leading efforts to broker a political solution to the crisis" - will also attend today's meeting. The BBC says he will want to know if the talks about the handover of chemical weapons can be broadened into a wider discussion about ending Syria's bloody civil war.
The conflict has intensified in recent days, say sources inside Syria, as the Assad regime tries to capitalise on the "demoralisation" of the rebels in the wake of the US's stalled intervention. Activists told The Times that military aircraft had bombed one of the main hospitals in rebel-held northern Syria, killing at least 11 people including two doctors.
Here is a roundup of some of the key developments:
Elite unit is "scattering" chemical weapons: The Wall Street Journal says a "secretive Syrian military unit" has been distributing the regime's chemical weapons between as many as 50 sites.
The paper says the activity of Unit 450 could "complicate" any US attempt to destroy the weapons using cruise missiles or bombs. It also "raises questions" about the efficacy of a Russian plan to identify, seize and destroy the regime's banned weapons.
US officials told the paper they still know where most of the chemical weapons are being stored, but their intelligence is less accurate than it was six months ago.
UN investigates 'Jihadist massacre': The case of those arguing against a military intervention in Syria will be bolstered by claims that Jihadists killed "at least 30 people including women and children", The Times says. The UN says the massacre took place on 11 June in Hatla, near the eastern city of Deir el-Zour.
"Anti-government armed fighters conducted home invasions, killing and summarily executing (by shooting at close range) many Shia, including at least 30 civilians, among them children, women and elderly," a UN report says. "Fighters also set fire to civilian houses and a Shia mosque while shouting sectarian slogans."
The timing of the report is significant, says The Times. "Those opposed [to a military strike] claim that it will encourage the extremist elements in the opposition to stage revenge attacks on Assad supporters, or even make a grab for unguarded chemical weapons arsenals."
CIA steps up delivery of arms to rebels: The CIA has been sending light machine guns and other small arms to the Syrian rebels for several weeks, The Independent reports. The paper describes the deliveries as a "major escalation" of the US role in the civil war.
As well as guns, the US has arranged for the rebels to receive anti-tank weaponry such as rocket-propelled grenades "through a third party". ·