Thursday, August 22, 2013

Syria 'chemical' attack: France says force may be needed

Syria 'chemical' attack: France says force may be needed
France has said that if Syria is proved to have used chemical weapons against its own people it could merit an international "reaction with force".
The comments from Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius come as Syrian activists say more than 1,000 people were killed in the attacks on Wednesday.
France, the UK and Turkey are leading calls for a tough response from the UN.
In a letter, they called for UN weapons inspectors already in Syria to be granted access as a matter of urgency.
However, there is no sign that the UN team will be allowed to investigate.
The team are staying close to the site of the recent attacks, but only have a mandate to visit three sites previously agreed between the UN and the Syrian government.


The chances of the UN chemical weapons inspectors in Syria accessing the true site of Wednesday's alleged chemical attack in time to make a clear judgement on responsibility are slim.
It took months to negotiate permission for them to visit other sites around the country and the Syrian government, backed by Russia, is resisting calls to give them access to the eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta where this apparent atrocity took place. Part of the reason is the area is contested between government forces and rebels and is therefore unsafe.
If an agent such as sarin has been used, the UN team would need to get to the site within days before traces become so faint as to be inconclusive. And if, as the opposition claims, it was a government attack, then a delay of days or weeks would give it enough time for forensic evidence to become controversial and for evidence of munitions used to be removed. The Syrian government insists it was the rebels who carried out the attack.
The Syrian government has described the latest allegations as "illogical and fabricated". The Syrian army said the opposition forces had made up the claims to divert attention from their recent huge losses.
'Innocent lives'
Mr Fabius told the French BFM TV channel that if the attack was confirmed, "France's position is that there must be a reaction, a reaction that could take the form of a reaction with force".
He did not elaborate on his comments, but he did rule out the use of troops on the ground in Syria.
The British Foreign Office said in a statement that the UK and 36 other countries had formally referred the latest allegations to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, and called for inspectors in Syria "to be granted the necessary access to enable their investigation into these latest allegations as a matter of urgency".
"We believe a political solution is the best way to end the bloodshed," said the statement, but added that Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague "have said many times we cannot rule out any option ... that might save innocent lives in Syria".
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also stressed the need for action.
"All red lines have been crossed but still the UN Security Council has not even been able to take a decision," Mr Davutoglu said.
On Wednesday, the UN Security Council held an emergency session, after news of the attacks emerged. Officials said it was a "serious escalation".
Image provided by Syrian opposition activists purportedly showing a girl receiving treatment at a makeshift clinic in Irbin, Damascus (21 August 2013)
Some 35 member states at the meeting called for the inspectors already in Syria to be dispatched immediately to the scene.
The inspectors arrived in Damascus on Sunday with a mandate to investigate three locations including the northern town of Khan al-Assal, where some 26 people were killed in March.
But UN Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson said any further investigation was dependent on the security situation and would require the consent of the Syrian government, which correspondents say is unlikely to be given.
The 35 states gave their backing to a stronger statement, but it was blocked by China and Russia - which have repeatedly backed the Syrian government since the crisis began.
The US has expressed its "deep concern" over the latest claims and formally requested the UN to "urgently investigate".
Lord Malloch Brown said Assad didn't believe there would be a response to chemical attacks
The alleged attack comes a year after US President Barack Obama warned the Syrian government that using chemical weapons would cross a "red line".
But the Russian foreign ministry noted that the reports had emerged just as the UN chemical weapons inspection team had arrived in Syria, saying that "this makes us think that we are once again dealing with a premeditated provocation".
Disturbing footage
Opposition activists said that more than 1,000 people were killed after government forces launched rockets with toxic agents into the Damascus suburbs in the Ghouta region early on Wednesday.
The BBC has been unable to independently confirm the death toll.

Chemical weapons claims

  • Khan al-Assal, 19 March 2013 - Syrian state media accuse rebels of killing 31 people with rockets containing "chemical materials". Rebels blame the army for the attack.
  • Al-Otaybeh, 19 March 2013 - Opposition activists allege an attack in which six people are reported dead, apparently in reprisal for gains made by rebel forces.
  • Adra, 24 March 2013 - The LCC activist network say two people are killed in an attack.
  • Sheikh Maqsoud, Aleppo, 13 April 2013 - At least three people are killed in an attack; internet footage of the victims shows symptoms consistent with exposure to nerve gas.
  • Saraqeb, 29 April 2013 - Eyewitnesses say canisters containing a poisonous gas are dropped from a helicopter above the town. Eight people are injured, one of whom later dies.
  • Ghouta, 21 August 2013 - By far the most serious alleged incident, with hundreds reported dead in attacks on the outskirts of Damascus
Activists said Wednesday's attack took place as part of heavy government bombardment in the region surrounding Damascus, with government forces trying to drive out rebel forces. The areas said to have been affected included Irbin, Duma and Muadhamiya.
Footage uploaded to the internet shows dozens of bodies with no visible signs of injuries, including small children, laid out on the floor of a clinic. Other videos show people being treated in makeshift hospitals, with victims, including many children, having convulsions.
While it is not clear how many died in the bombardment of the sites and how many deaths were due to any exposure to toxic substances, experts say it would be almost impossible to fake so many dead and injured including children and babies.
Both the rebels and government forces have accused each other of using chemical weapons throughout the 28-month conflict.
In July 2012, the Syrian government implicitly admitted what had long been suspected - that Syria had stocks of chemical weapons.
Experts believe the country has large undeclared stockpiles of mustard gas and sarin nerve agent.
Map of Damascus Ghouta