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Human Rights Watch blames the Syrian governme -

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MARK COLVIN: The US-based Human Rights Watch says the evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government forces were responsible for a poison gas attack that killed more than 1,400 people near Damascus in August.

The finding contradicts repeated denials by the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad that his forces used chemical weapons.

Human Rights Watch reported as the US president was pushing for congressional approval for military strikes on Syria.

But Barack Obama is also exploring a Russian proposal to put Syria's chemical weapons under international control.

Mandie Sami reports.

MANDIE SAMI: Human Rights Watch says its conclusion is based on witness accounts, information of the likely source of the attacks, remnants of the weapons used, and medical records of the victims.

One of the authors of the report, Peter Bouckaert, says Syrian government forces are most likely to blame for the deadly attack.

PETER BOUCKAERT: We reconstructed the kind of rockets that were used in the attack. It's clear that these are rockets, 144 millimetre and 130 millimetre rockets, that were either obtained by the Syrian government from Soviet stocks a few decades ago or were actually constructed in Syria for the explicit purpose of carrying out chemical weapon attacks.

We know that the agent used in the attack was most likely sarin, which is in the possession of the Syrian government.

So the sophistication this attack and the fact that these are rockets that we know are in the possession of the Syrian government clearly indicates that the Syrian government most likely carried out this attack, despite the denials from Damascus.

MANDIE SAMI: The chemical weapons attack near Damascus on August 21st is said to have killed more than 1,400 people.

The findings from Human Rights Watch contradict statements from president Bashar al-Assad. Earlier in an interview with US network PBS, he blamed the attack on rebels fighting to overthrow him.

BASHAR AL-ASSAD: Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically. They went to the hospital as casualties because of chemical weapons. But in the area where they said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations. We were not there. How can you talk about what happened if you don't have evidence?

MANDIE SAMI: President Assad also gave a dire warning to the US against intervention in his country:

BASHAR AL-ASSAD: Nobody can tell what the repercussion of the first strike. You're talking about one region, bigger regions, not only about Syria, it's an interlinked region. If you strike somewhere, you have to expect the repercussions in different forms.

MANDIE SAMI: But the US president Barack Obama is still pushing for Congressional approval for military strikes against Syria.

BARACK OBAMA: I believe I can make a very strong case to Congress, as well as the American people, about why we can't leave our children a world in which other children are being subjected to nerve gas, and that it is in our interest, if we can take a limited step that makes a meaningful difference, it's worth it for us to do that.

MANDIE SAMI: Support in Congress for a measure authorising attacks remains relatively low, and polls suggest a majority of Americans oppose such a move.

The US Senate has delayed a key vote on authorising the use of force in Syria to let Mr Obama address the issue publicly.

The president has already given a series of television interviews and he's preparing to give a national address tomorrow aimed at building support.

Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has asked Syria to put its chemical weapons stockpiles under international control and then have them destroyed, in an attempt to avoid US military strikes.

SERGEI LAVROV (translation): John Kerry made an announcement stating that the attacks on Syria could be avoided if Damascus hands over to the UN all its chemical weapons. We don't know if Syria will agree to that, but if they do then Russia will immediately work with Damascus to achieve that.

MANDIE SAMI: The Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Muallem says Syria welcomes that proposal.

WALID AL-MUALLEM (translated): The Syrian Arab Republic announces its acceptance of the Russian initiative on chemical weapons out of concern for the lives of its citizens and the security of the country, and its faith in the wisdom of the Russian leadership in seeking to avert an American attack against our people.

MANDIE SAMI: Mr Obama says it's a significant breakthrough, but he's sceptical the Syrian government will follow through. He maintains that all options are on the table

BARACK OBAMA: I don't think that we would have got to this point unless we had maintained a credible possibility of a military strike, and I don't think now is the time for us to let up on that.

I want to make sure that that norm against use of chemical weapons is maintained.

MARK COLVIN: Barack Obama ending that report from Mandie Sami