Now in the third year of their country’s civil war, Syrians are being exposed to chemical weapons, according to outside experts and sources on the ground.
The rebels say the Assad regime has used them, even though it said last year it would only do so in the case of a foreign attack.
At the same time, the government in Damascus accuses the rebels of having used chemical weapons. State television showed video of what it said were victims in Aleppo, being treated in hospital.
Yesterday, France laid a blunt accusation at Assad’s door, Paris saying it had scientific proof based on samples brought back from Syria. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius went on national television with this.
Fabius said: “The conclusion of the laboratory is clear: there is sarin gas. The other question is whether we can trace who originally used it. There is absolutely no doubt that it is the regime and its accomplices. A line has been crossed, unquestionably.”
Eleven months ago, US President Barack Obama warned Assad against going too far, after his Syrian counterpart had confirmed having the stuff in reserve.
Obama said: “Given the regime’s stockpiles of chemical weapons, we will continue to make clear to Assad and those around him that the world is watching, and that they will be held accountable by the international community and the United States should they make the tragic mistake of using those weapons.”
But yesterday the White House reiterated its cautious approach to making good on its warning; the US is still considering how it might respond.
White House spokesman Jay Carney said: “We need to expand the evidence we have. We need to make it reviewable. We need to have it corroborated before we make any decisions based on the clear violation that use of chemical weapons by the Syrian regime would represent.”
Yesterday as well, the International Inquiry Commission tabled its latest report.
Its Chairman Paulo Pinheiro said: “There are reasonable grounds to believe that limited quantities of toxic chemicals were used. It has not been possible on the evidence available to determine the precise chemical agents used, the delivery systems, or the perpetrators.”
Syria is one of seven countries that have not signed up to the Convention (which came into force in 1997) on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction.