Hollande to Obama: Syria behind Ghouta attack

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French President Francois Hollande told his U.S. counterpart Barack Obama on Sunday that “everything was consistent” with the conclusion that Damascus was behind last week’s suspected chemical attack on Ghouta, a Damascus district, Agence France-Presse reported.

“The head of state condemned the use of chemical weapons in Syria and indicated that everything was consistent with designating the Damascus regime as the perpetrator of these unacceptable attacks,” AFP quoted the French president’s office as saying in a statement.

“The two presidents agreed to stay in close contact to arrive at a joint response to this unprecedented aggression,” the statement said.

Last week’s purported attack on the Ghouta area in the Syrian capital killed hundreds of civilians.

The alleged attack took place while U.N. chemical weapons inspectors were in the conflict-torn country attempting to investigate previous claims directed by the Syrian government and the rebels against each other that they used deadly toxic gases in the conflict.

On Sunday, Syria said it would allow the U.N. experts access to the site of the attack in Ghouta. The United Nations said on Sunday that its inspectors will arrive in the area on Monday.

Syria’s allowing U.N. experts access was hailed by its ally Russia as a positive move, however, Washington dubbed the move as lacking in “credibility” as it came “too late.”

Britain also said on Sunday that evidence of the chemical weapons attack could have already been destroyed ahead of the U.N. inspectors’ visit.

Infographic: Chemical weapons claims (Design by Farwa Rizwan / Al Arabiya English)
Infographic: Chemical weapons claims (Design by Farwa Rizwan / Al Arabiya English)

“We have to be realistic now about what the U.N. team can achieve,” Reuters quoted Foreign Secretary William Hague as saying to reporters.

“The fact is that much of the evidence could have been destroyed by that artillery bombardment. Other evidence could have degraded over the last few days and other evidence could have been tampered with,” he said, referring to opposition activists’ reports that the army has shelled the area in the last few days.

The foreign secretary added that all evidence pointed towards the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian government and said that such attacks demanded a strong international response.

“We cannot in the 21st century allow the idea that chemical weapons can be used with impunity,” Hague said. “We believe it’s very important that there is a strong response and that dictators ... know that the use of chemical weapons is to cross a line and that the world will respond when that line is crossed.”

Obama said that the United States will not stay silent if Damascus “crosses the red line,” in using chemical weapons against the rebels seeking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

(With AFP and Reuters)

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