France analyzing suspected Syria chemical weapon samples

President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the rebels fighting to oust him have accused each other of using chemical weapons. (Photo courtesy: Le Monde)

Following a report by France’s Le Monde newspaper, detailing first-hand accounts of chemical weapons use in Syria, France is now analyzing suspected chemical samples smuggled from Syria by reporters from the paper.

The results of the testing will be divulged in the next few days, a senior French government official said on Monday on condition of anonymity.

“Samples were handed to our intelligence services by the Le Monde journalists,” the official told Reuters news agency. “Tests will be done on these samples and the results made known in the coming days.”

The official added that, like the United States and Britain, France had already analyzed its own samples and concluded that there were “clues but no formal evidence” of the use of chemical arms in Syria.

The two reporters from French newspaper Le Monde said they had “witnessed over several consecutive days” the use of explosive chemical arms and their effects on rebel fighters in the outskirts of Damascus.

Photographer Laurent Van der Stockt reported that on April 13 he saw fighters “suffocating and vomiting” in the village of Jobar outside the Syrian capital after an apparent attack using chemical weapons.

The journalists said they had gathered witness accounts of the use of chemical weapons in a large area around Damascus.

According to AFP news agency, one doctor in a rebel-held area told the newspaper that the weapons caused breathing difficulties, headaches and nausea, and could cause death if victims were not treated.

The French official, who was speaking after talks among U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in Paris, said the three ministers had agreed that any use of chemical weapons would be a game changer.

“The question of chemical weapons can create a different situation because the divisions on that are not the same as on the Syrian conflict,” the official said.

“If we have enough elements that converge to say that chemical weapons were used, then we will have to take a decision with our partners to examine the possible consequences.”

President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the rebels fighting to oust him have accused each other of using chemical weapons. U.N. investigators have been ready for weeks, but diplomatic wrangling and safety concerns have delayed their entry into Syria.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Monday there were indications of “localized use” of chemical arms in Syria, and the United Nations has called on Damascus to let in U.N. investigators.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:40 - GMT 06:40