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Syrian rebels denounce ‘fabricated’ nerve gas charge

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-07-10

Syria's main Western-backed opposition group on Wednesday rejected "fabricated" Russian accusations that rebels made sarin nerve gas and used it in a deadly chemical attack outside Aleppo in March.

Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group on Wednesday denied Russian accusations that rebels had manufactured sarin nerve gas and used it in a chemical attack outside Aleppo in March.

Russia's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin on Tuesday said Russian scientific analysis strongly indicated a projectile containing sarin that hit Khan al-Assal on March 19, killing 26 civilians and military personnel, was fired by rebels.

But the Syrian National Coalition said the charges from Moscow, a key ally and arms supplier to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, were “desperate” and “fabricated”.

"The Free Syrian Army strongly condemns all usage of chemical weapons against a civilian population and denies Russia's allegations about the FSA using chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal, Aleppo," Khalid Saleh, a spokesman for the coalition, said in a statement.

"Only the Assad regime has the know-how, capability and willingness to use these weapons," Saleh said, "The coalition and supreme military council have asked for the UN monitors to come to Syria to investigate the use of these weapons and the Assad regime refuses to allow them to do so.”

An explosive issue

Use of chemical weapons is an explosive issue, potentially guiding whether the West increases its aid to rebel forces.

President Barack Obama called chemical weapons use by the Assad government a “red line”– while such accusations against the rebels could reinforce Western misgivings about arming them.

The rebels blame the government for the attack, while France, Britain and the US have said they have seen no evidence that the opposition has acquired or used chemical weapons.

While rebels have called for a UN fact-finding mission to come to Syria, the UN and the Damascus regime have so far been unable to agree on the scope of an inquiry, and there has been no independent investigation.

Help for an ally

Churkin delivered an 80-page report to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Tuesday. He said Syria asked its ally Russia to investigate the attack because of the impasse with the UN.

The samples taken from the impact site were analysed at a Russian laboratory, Churkin said, and “there is every reason to believe that it was the armed opposition fighters who used the chemical weapons in Khan al-Assal.”

British UN Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant told reporters Wednesday: “It’s nice that the Syrian regime has given access to Russian experts to collect samples of alleged chemical weapons use, but it is considerably more important that they give access to independent and credible UN investigators.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney added: “We have yet to see any evidence that backs up the assertion that anybody besides the Syrian government has had the ability to use chemical weapons or has used chemical weapons.”

The US says it has “high confidence” that Assad’s forces have killed up to 150 people with sarin gas.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-07-10

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