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Aug 21, 4:53 AM EDT

Group: Justice elusive year after Syria gas attack

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BEIRUT (AP) -- One year after the deadly chemical attack on rebel-held areas outside Damascus, the victims and their families have yet to see those behind the mass killings held responsible, a human rights group said Thursday.

In the early hours of Aug. 21, 2013, rockets carrying the nerve agent sarin slammed into the rebel-held suburbs of the Syrian capital of eastern Ghouta and Moadamiyeh. Hundreds were killed in what amounted to the U.N. chief called the "worst use of weapons of mass destruction in the 21st century."

The Syrian opposition and its allies, including the United States, accused Damascus of carrying out the attack. President Bashar Assad's government denied responsibility, and blamed the rebels.

U.N. inspectors conducted a swift investigation that determined rockets loaded with sarin had been fired from an area where the Syrian military has bases. But the U.N. probe's limited mandate did not authorize the experts to identify who was responsible for the attack.

The Obama administration, meanwhile, threatened to carry out punitive airstrikes against the Syrian government, triggering a flurry of diplomacy that eventually resulted in Assad accepting a U.S.-Russia brokered deal to relinquish his chemical arsenal.

Over the past 11 months, a joint mission by the U.N. and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has overseen the removal of all of Syria's declared chemical stockpile from the country and transported abroad for destruction. More than 80 percent of those materials have been neutralized so far, according to the OPCW.

Nadim Houry, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at the New York-based Human Rights Watch, welcomed the removal of Syria's chemical arsenal, but said its destruction "will do nothing for the hundreds of victims who died a year ago and the relatives who survive them."

"Closure of the chemical weapons issue in Syria will be possible only when those who ordered and executed the Ghouta attacks have been held to account and are behind bars," Houry said in a statement Thursday.

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