Syrian wear gas maks after shelling 370.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman)
UNITED NATIONS - UN investigators reacted cautiously on
Wednesday to France's announcement that laboratory tests proved that President
Bashar Assad's forces had used nerve gas in Syria's civil war, saying it was
vital to know the chain of custody of the samples.
French officials said
on Tuesday that their tests were the first to comply with international
standards and prove that chemical weapons were used in Syria. Paris handed the
results to the UN chemical weapons investigation team, headed by Swedish
scientist Ake Sellstrom.
"Yesterday in Paris, Mr. Sellstrom received
additional information related to the reports of the alleged use of chemical
weapons in Syria submitted by the government of France," the United Nations said
in a statement.
"Mr. Sellstrom cautions that the validity of the
information is not ensured in the absence of convincing evidence of the
chain-of-custody of the data collected," it said.
The White House also
reacted cautiously to the French announcement, saying on Tuesday the United
States was not ready to say the Syrian government used chemical weapons in the
Britain said last week that it wrote to UN
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon about additional suspected chemical weapons
attacks in March and April by Syrian government forces. The British letter
referred to three different sites in Syria.
Britain's UN Ambassador
Mark Lyall Grant told reporters on Tuesday that London had evidence of the use
of sarin gas and other chemicals in Syria.
"The evidence that we have
suggests that there is a use of a number of different variants of chemical
agents, a combination of agents in some cases, sometimes including sarin,
sometimes not," said Lyall Grant, who is president of the UN Security Council
"It is relatively small quantities, but nonetheless, repeated
use and any use of chemical weapons is abhorrent," he said.
government has denied using chemical weapons and has in turn accused rebels of
deploying them in the two-year civil war that the United Nations says has killed
over 80,000 people.
Sellstrom's team of chemical weapons experts has been
ready for well over a month to enter Syria to investigate the allegations but
has been held up by diplomatic wrangling and safety concerns.
urged Syria to give the experts unfettered access to investigate all alleged
chemical arms incidents. But Assad's government only wants the UN team to
probe an incident in Aleppo from March. UN diplomats say UN-Syria
negotiations on access have reached a deadlock.
The UN statement on
Wednesday made clear Sellstrom believes the only way to conduct a proper
investigation is by going to Syria.
"On-site activities are essential if
the United Nations is to be able to establish the facts," he said.