An independent United Nations commission accused the Syrian government and armed opposition groups of committing war crimes and inflicting "immeasurable suffering" on civilians, in a scathing report released Wednesday that left no side without blame.
The report said pro-government forces had likely used chlorine gas, an illegal chemical weapon. Rebel groups such as the Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate, and the Islamic Front were criticized for recruiting child soldiers and detaining civilians, while the report said the actions of the extremist group Islamic State were "tantamount to crimes against humanity."
The report, the eighth prepared by a commission investigating possible war crimes in Syria, was based on 480 interviews and evidence collected between Jan. 20 and July 15.
It is significant for its assignment of blame to the Syrian government for the use of a chemical agent, probably chlorine, on several villages in the northern provinces of Idlib and Hama in eight separate incidents in April.
According to the report, witnesses saw helicopters drop barrel bombs and smelled a scent similar to domestic chlorine.
Medical personnel administering to the victims provided "descriptions of symptoms compatible with exposure to chemical agents, namely vomiting, eye and skin irritation, choking and other respiratory problems," the report said. "There are also reasonable grounds to believe that those agents were dropped in barrel bombs from government helicopters flying overhead."
Government forces also continue to perpetrate massacres and conduct systematic torture, rape and enforced disappearances against civilians, the report said.
It also noted widespread attacks against civilians by the Islamic State, the group that claimed responsibility for killing American journalist James Foley. The militants now control a swath of territory in the northern provinces of Aleppo and Raqqa and have declared a self-styled caliphate stretching into neighboring Iraq.
"Public squares have become the scene of amputations, lashings and mock crucifixion," the report said. Public executions are a "common spectacle" on Fridays, with the Islamic State encouraging residents to attend.
Most of the executions are beheadings, the report added.
Bulos is a special correspondent.