The UN Security Council voted unanimously on Friday to set up a panel to identify who is behind deadly chlorine gas attacks in Syria, which the West blames on the Damascus regime, AFP reported.
Russia, Syria's veto-wielding ally, endorsed the measure as did the rest of the 15-member council — a rare display of unity over how to address the conflict, which has left more than 240,000 people dead.
Under discussion for months, the U.S.-drafted resolution sets up a team of experts tasked with identifying the perpetrators of the chemical weapons attacks and paves the way for possible sanctions to punish them.
There were several reports of chlorine gas attacks in Syria in the past year, and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) later released a report in which it concluded "with a high degree of confidence" that chlorine gas had been used in attacks on three villages in Syria last year.
The United States, Britain and France have repeatedly accused President Bashar Al-Assad's forces of carrying out chlorine gas attacks with barrel bombs dropped from helicopters, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has warned Assad he would be held to account for using chlorine gas against civilians.
The three countries argue that only the Syrian regime has helicopters. But Russia maintains there is no solid proof that Damascus is behind the attacks.
Both Russia and the United States, divided over the war since it broke out, welcomed the resolution.
"We need to bring the same unity to urgently find a political solution," American ambassador Samantha Power said, adding the resolution "sends a clear and powerful message."
In a tweet, she called the probe a necessary step toward "eventual accountability."
Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the resolution was "a good example of political will, of the will to cooperate and of perseverance to come up with a good product."
The investigative panel will be given "full access" to all locations in Syria and allowed to interview witnesses and collect materials, according to the text of the resolution.
It mandates the panel to "identify to the greatest extent feasible individuals, entities, groups or governments who were perpetrators, organizers, sponsors or otherwise involved in the use of chemicals as weapons" in Syria.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is tasked with assembling a team within 20 days, working with the OPCW which is based in The Hague.
The panel would present its first findings to the council 90 days after it begins its work, which would be for a duration of one year.
Ban said the on-site probe will be an "extremely challenging mission" because of the dangerous security situation. Ban called on all both Syria's rebel forces and government to provide full cooperation.
"Holding the perpetrators of the toxic chemical attacks accountable may hopefully alleviate the prolonged suffering of the Syrian people," Ban said in a statement quoted by AFP.
Syria's UN ambassador Bashar Jaafari said his country's army "has never used and will never use chemical weapons."
He said extremist groups linked to Al-Qaeda have done so, and he questioned the neutrality of previous on-the-ground probes by the UN and the OPCW.
(Arutz Sheva’s North American desk is keeping you updated until the start of Shabbat in New York. The time posted automatically on all Arutz Sheva articles, however, is Israeli time.)