France, Britain, and the United States all said on June 4 that they have found evidence of chemical weapons being used in the bloody Syrian civil war, in a development that could push one or all the countries to intervene militarily.
The French foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that an analysis by a lab in France shows that sarin gas has been used in Syria several times and in a “localized manner.”
In a statement posted on the foreign ministry’s website, Fabius said he met with the head of the fact-finding mission established by the Secretary-General of the United Nations to tell him the findings.
The use of sarin gas has been disputed by the Syrian government since allegations came to light several months ago. The government is suspected of using the gas against the opposition.
“It is unacceptable that the perpetrators of these crimes to benefit from impunity,” Fabius said.
He said that there was “no doubt” that at least in one case, the regime and its allies were responsible for the attack. “We have integrally traced the chain, from the attack, to the moment people were killed, to when the samples were taken and analyzed,” Fabius told the TV station France 2.
He said a line was crossed and that “all options are on the table,” including intervening “militarily where the gas is produced or stored.”
The findings include the presence of isopropyl methylphosphonic acid (sarin metabolite) in the urine of three victims, according to the French daily Le Monde.
In London, Britain’s Foreign Office said samples from Syria were tested at a government laboratory and that the presence of sarin was confirmed. It did not say when or where the samples were obtained.
Britain has evidence suggesting a number of different chemical agents have been used,”sometimes including sarin, sometimes not,” said Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mark Lyall Grant.
White House spokesman Jay Carney, speaking before the British announcement, said the French report is “entirely consistent” with the Obama administration’s own findings, but added more work needs to be done to establish who is responsible for the use of the toxic substances and when they were used.
“We need more information,” he said.
The findings of samples taken out Syria comes about a week after reporters with Le Monde published a video and story about spending two months with rebel fighters in the Damascus area. The reporters also say that there is no doubt that chemical weapons are being used by the Syrian government.
In one attack, on the Jobar front that is on the outskirts of Damascus, a canister the size of a soda can fell to the ground, catching the rebel fighters off guard.
“We thought it was a mortar that didn’t explode, and no one really paid attention to it,’ said Omar Haidar, chief of operations of the Tahrir al-Sham Brigade.
“No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas,” describes Le Monde correspondent Jean-Philippe Remy. “And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing, sometimes in the extreme; they begin to vomit or lose consciousness. The fighters worst affected need to be evacuated before they suffocate.”
The alleged chemical attacks happened for several days in a row, according to Remy.
United Nations Report Finds Chemical Agents Used
Also on June 4, the Independent International Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic, the United Nations commission responsible for investigating the potential chemical weapons use, released a report saying it had found “reasonable grounds” to believe that chemical agents had been used as weapons in the prolonged conflict.
The commission has been investigating human rights abuses in Syria for more than two years, a time period in which more than 80,000 people have died in Syria.
Paul Pinheiro, the chair of the commission, told Sky News that “It has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator.”
The investigation examined four reported toxic attacks in March and April, and included 430 interviews with victims, medical staff, and people who have fled the country.
The team said full access of Syria is needed to find out what has happened over the course of the war.
U.N.-Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appointed a U.N. team to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria after the government in Damascus asked him to investigate a purported attack by rebels on March 19 on Khan al-Assal village near the northern city of Aleppo. But the Syrian government insists that a probe be limited to that incident.
Last week, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Iraq under Saddam Hussein inadvertently paved the way for the 2003 U.S.-led invasion by allowing U.N. inspectors into the country, and suggested Syria is not about to make the same mistake. “We will not allow teams of inspectors to come to Syria to do whatever they want,” he said in a TV interview.
Syria is widely believed to have one of the world’s largest arsenals of chemical weapons, including mustard and nerve gas. The Assad regime has denied using such weapons during the civil war.
The United Nation commission’s report to the Human Rights Council on violations in Syria’s conflict accused both sides of committing war crimes. In an apparent message to European countries considering arming Syrian rebels, the report warned that the transfer of arms would heighten the risk of violations, leading to more civilian deaths and injuries.
“War crimes and crimes against humanity have become a daily reality in Syria where the harrowing accounts of victims have seared themselves on our conscience,” the report said. “There is a human cost to the increased availability of weapons,” it added. Overall, the report details how the conflict in Syria “reaches new levels of brutality.”
And, the commission said it “remains convinced” that a political settlement is the only way to stop the violence.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.