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UN confirms deadly nerve agent used against S -

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TONY EASTLEY: United Nations inspectors have confirmed the deadly nerve agent sarin was used against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale last month in Syria.

As the widely-awaited report was made public, the US and Russia have been giving conflicting accounts of the chemical disarmament deal reached in Geneva over the weekend.

North America correspondent Jane Cowan reports.

JANE COWAN: The UN chief Ban Ki-moon says the 38-page report makes for chilling reading. Based on evidence including statements from more than 50 victims, and blood and hair samples from those affected, it's the first official confirmation by independent scientific experts of what the United States has been saying for weeks.

BAN KI-MOON: The results are overwhelming and indisputable - 85 per cent of the blood samples tested positive for sarin. The findings are beyond doubt and beyond the pale.

JANE COWAN: The report says the weather conditions at the time of the attack exacerbated the death toll. Falling temperatures made the gas settle close to the ground, pushing it into homes, killing people as they slept and seeping into basements, where others were seeking shelter.

Because of their limited mandate, the UN inspectors don't assign blame. But the report says the nerve agent sarin was delivered by surface-to-surface missiles, including some that had Cyrillic markings.

It's the most significant confirmed use of chemical weapons against civilians since Saddam Hussein used them in Halabja in 1988 and the worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century.

Britain's ambassador to the UN, Mark Lyall Grant, says it's clear who's responsible.

MARK LYALL GRANT: This was no cottage industry use of chemical weapons. The quality of the sarin was superior both to that used in the Tokyo subway but also to that used by Iraq. The type of munitions, the trajectories, all of that confirms in our view that there is no remaining doubt that it was the regime.

JANE COWAN: Russia's ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, remains unconvinced.

VITALY CHURKIN: I think some colleagues jumped to their conclusions when they were saying statements to the effect that the opposition could not have done certain things - I think they are not really as scientific.

JANE COWAN: Russia's also cast doubt on exactly what was agreed in Geneva.

(Sound of Sergei Lavrov speaking in Russian)

JANE COWAN: The foreign minister Sergei Lavrov says calls for a swift UN resolution threatening punitive measures, including potential use of force against Damascus if it fails to surrender its chemical weapons, shows a "lack of understanding" of the Geneva pact.

As possibly the first cracks appear in the deal, in the region the fighting goes on.

Turkey has confirmed its warplanes shot down a Syrian helicopter that violated Turkish airspace.

This is Jane Cowan in Washington for AM.