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Updated: Wed, 27 Aug 2014 08:33:21 GMT | By The Associated Press, cbc.ca

Syrian government, ISIS committed crimes against humanity, UN panel says



A rebel fighter carries his weapon as he walks among rubble in the Damascus suburb of Harasta August 24, 2014. Picture taken August 24, 2014. REUTERS/Badra Mamet (© SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT)

A rebel fighter carries his weapon as he walks among rubble in the Damascus suburb of Harasta August 24, 2014. Picture taken August 24, 2014. REUTERS/Badra Mamet (SYRIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CONFLICT) - RTR43LOD Badra Mamet/Reuters

An independent United Nations commission said Wednesday that the Syrian government has likely used chlorine gas to attack civilians and that the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group committed crimes against humanity with attacks on civilians in two cities in the country's north and west.

The report from the commission, which has been tasked to investigate potential war crimes in the country, marks the first time the United Nations has assigned blame for the use of the chemical agent. Specifically, the commission said government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad likely unleashed chlorine on civilians in northern Syrian villages eight times in April.

The commission also noted widespread and systematic civilian killings by ISIS, which now controls a swath of north and eastern Syria, in the northern city of Aleppo and in the western city of Raqqa where the group has its headquarters. The findings mean that UN officials now believe ISIS has committed crimes against humanity in Syria and Iraq, the two countries in which the group has carved out a self-styled caliphate.

"This is a continuation — and a geographic expansion — of the widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population," according to the report of the four-member commission that is chaired by Brazilian diplomat and scholar Paulo Sergio Pinheiro.

The commission also said Assad's government forces continue to perpetrate crimes against humanity — the most serious and systematic type of widespread crime against civilians— through massacres and systematic murder, torture, rape and disappearances.

On Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, said ISIS fighters reportedly killed up to 670 prisoners in Mosul and committed other horrific abuses in Iraq that amount to crimes against humanity.

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