Britain finds evidence of sarin gas use in Syria

Tests done by UK, France on samples from Syria confirmed gas presence; France attributes use of chemicals to Syrian regime.

June 5, 2013 10:52
3 minute read.
A fighter from the Free Syrian Army wears a gas mask in January 2013.

Syrian free army gas mask370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic)


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The British Foreign Ministry said that tests revealed use of the nerve gas sarin in the Syrian civil war, the Independent reported on Wednesday.

A statement by the Foreign Office said that a government lab tested samples from Syria and confirmed the presence of the gas, but failed to specify where the samples were obtained from, the Independent reported.

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The tests found evidence suggesting use of a number of different chemical agents, "sometimes including sarin, sometimes not," according to Mark Lyall Grant, Britain's ambassador to the United Nations.

The British announcement came on the heels of comments made by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who said tests done on samples smuggled out of Syria by Le Monde reporters show use of chemical weapons in the war-torn country.

While France attributed the use of chemical agents to the Syrian regime, Britain's statement did not accuse either side.

"There is no doubt that it's the regime and its accomplices" that are responsible for use of the gas, Fabius said on France 2 television.

France said that all options, including military action, were under consideration in reaction to the development.

"All options are on the table," Fabius said. "That means either we decide not to react or we decide to react including by armed actions targetting the place where the gas is stored."

As Syria's civil war enters its third year with 80,000 dead, chemical weapons are reported to have been used by the government of President Bashar Assad, and there are also fears they could fall into the hands of militants seeking to destabilize the region.

The United States wants to gather and review more evidence about the use of chemical weapons in Syria before making decisions about how to respond, White House spokesman Jay Carney said on Tuesday.

At a news briefing in Washington, Carney said the United States believes most chemical weapons in Syria remain under the government's control and was "highly skeptical" of claims that the opposition had used them in warfare.

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On Tuesday, United Nations human rights investigators said they had "reasonable grounds" to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons had been used in Syria.

In their latest report, they said they had received allegations that Syrian government and its opponents have accused each other of using chemical weapons.

Syria, defeated by Israel in three wars and afraid its arch enemy had gained a nuclear arsenal, began in earnest to build a covert chemical weapons program three decades ago, aided by its neighbors, allies and European chemical wholesalers.

Damascus lacked the technology and scientific capacity to set up a program on its own, but with backing from foreign allies it amassed what is believed to be one of the deadliest stockpiles of nerve agent in the world, Western military experts said.

"Syria was quite heavily reliant on outside help at the outset of its chemical weapons program, but the understanding now is that they have a domestic chemical weapons production capability," said Amy Smithson of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in Washington, an expert on nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed revulsion on Tuesday over atrocities in Syria's two-year civil war as detailed in a report prepared by UN human rights investigators, a spokesman for the world body said.

"He has seen this report," Ban's spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters. "Frankly he finds the catalog of atrocities in that report to be both sickening and staggering."

United Nations human rights investigators said in Geneva on Tuesday they had "reasonable grounds" to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons had been used in Syria and warned that the shattered country was in "free fall."

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