The United Nations Security Council has unanimously passed a United States-drafted resolution laying the groundwork for an inquiry that would assign blame for chemical weapons attacks in Syria's long and bloody civil war.

Al Jazeera's Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from the UN headquarters in New York, said following the passage of the resolution on Friday that it will now be sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.

Ban has 20 days to form the panel and make recommendations about how the investigation will be conducted. The panel would then make its first report within 90 days.

Our correspondent said the unanimous vote was "important and very significant" given the political divisions at the UN on the Syria issue. 


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The adoption of the resolution came after the US struck a deal with Russia, a strong backer of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, on a formal request to the UN to assemble a team of investigators to lay blame for toxic gas attacks in Syria.

US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said it was vital that those responsible for chemical attacks be held accountable.

The human toll of the war in Syria

"Pointing the finger matters," Power told the council after the vote.

Attributing responsibility for poison gas attacks in Syria's four-year conflict could pave the way for action by the 15-member Security Council. The body has already threatened consequences for such attacks, which could include sanctions.

Power told reporters Friday's vote was a "modest step" towards ending the impunity Syria's war criminals have enjoyed.

But she acknowledged that accountability for crimes in Syria appeared a long way off after Russia and China vetoed a Western proposal last year to refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court.

The council is expected to authorise the investigative team for one year once it receives Ban's recommendations.

The resolution was passed as the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitor said on Friday that it had documented the deaths of 240,381 people, up from its tally of 230,618 announced on June 9.

The latest death toll shows that 11,964 children were among 71,781 civilians killed in Syria.

At least 88,616 regime forces were killed - or one thirds all deaths documented by the SOHR - including 50,570 soldiers, with the rest made up by allied fighters.

The monitor, which relies on a wide network of sources on the ground, put the death toll for rebel fighters at 42,384 and said 34,375 foreign fighters had also been killed in Syria.

The identity of another 3,225 people killed in the conflict remains unknown, according to the Observatory.

The fate of 30,000 people who have gone missing in Syria, including 20,000 said to be held in Syrian jails, was not documented in the toll.

It also did not take into account the fate of thousands of loyalist forces held by rebel factions or by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant group.

The Syrian conflict began with anti-government protests before spiralling into a multi-front war after a brutal regime crackdown. 

 

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies