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UN reports points to chemical weapons use in Syria - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A picture taken on April 26, 2013 shows Abu Tarek, a 74-year-old retired army officer, trying on a homemade gas-mask assembled using a plastic bottle, coal, cotton, gauze, cola, and cardboard, for protection against chemical weapons, in Syria's northern Latakia province. (AFP PHOTO / MIGUEL MEDINA)

A picture taken on April 26, 2013 shows Abu Tarek, a 74-year-old retired army officer, trying on a homemade gas mask assembled using a plastic bottle, coal, cotton, gauze, cola and cardboard, for protection against chemical weapons, in Syria’s northern Latakia province. (AFP PHOTO/MIGUEL MEDINA)

London, Asharq Al-Awsat—UN investigators said yesterday that they had “reasonable grounds” to believe that limited amounts of chemical weapons had been used in Syria, without specifying by which side.

A report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria made reference to four separate incidents where chemical weapons were used, adding that “it has not been possible, on the evidence available, to determine the precise chemical agents used, their delivery systems or the perpetrator.”

The UN report listed the four separate incidents of alleged chemical weapons use as: Khan El-Assal, near Aleppo on March 19; Al-Outaiba, near Damascus, on March 19; Sheikh Maqsood district of Aleppo on April 13; and the town of Saraqeb on April 29.

French foreign minister Laurent Fabius announced that tests carried out in French labs had verified that sarin gas has been used in Syria. The samples were smuggled out of Syria by French journalists working for the Le Monde newspaper last week.

“We have no doubt that the gas is being used. The conclusion of the laboratory is clear: there is sarin gas,” he said.

The government and the rebels had previously exchanged accusations of chemical weapons use during the two-year-old civil war in Syria.

The UN report did not identify whether it was the regime or the rebels who were responsible for the chemical weapons use, acknowledging that either side could be responsible.

Urine and blood samples have been taken from Syrians, mostly refugees and casualties, to confirm chemical weapons use.

The UN Commission of Inquiry emphasized on Tuesday that “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.”

“There is a human cost to the increased availability of weapons,” it added.

Following the UN report yesterday, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) claimed that “there is no basis for comparison between those who target helpless people every day with explosives, killing women and children and systematically crushing the popular revolution, and those who carry light weapons to protect the people.”

In a statement, the SNC announced its “rejection and condemnation of all violation of international laws and agreements, regardless of who the perpetrator is.” The statement comes after the UN report claimed that human rights violations had been committed by both sides in the Syrian conflict.

Speaking exclusively to Asharq Al-Awsat, Free Syrian Army (FSA) joint military command spokesman Gen. Qassim Saad Eddin said: “The regime is the only party which has this type of weapons, and this requires a certain level of technical knowledge.”

When asked about the possibility of the FSA using chemical weapons, he said: “The regime is fabricating these charges against us in front of the international community.”

“The regime usually utilizes such weapons in the areas that it is unable to capture and gain control of,” he added.

The general stressed that the Assad regime’s forces have increased their use of banned weapons in an attempt to secure as much gain as possible before the expected Geneva II conference.

As the war continues to rage in Syria, the World Health Organization (WHO) has warned of disease epidemics sweeping the country.

Dr. Jaouad Mahjour, director of the Department for Communicable Diseases at the WHO’s Regional Office for the Eastern Mediterranean, said: “All the risk factors that enhance the transmission of communicable diseases in emergencies are present in the current crisis in Syria and its neighboring countries.”

“We are anticipating a number of public health risks from water-borne diseases, specifically hepatitis, typhoid, cholera and dysentery.