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Middle east

France urges ‘force’ if Syria chemical attack confirmed

© AFP

Video by Halla Mohieddeen

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-08-22

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabuis called for the international community to react with force on Thursday if it is confirmed the Syrian government used chemical weapons in a deadly assault on the outskirts of the capital Damascus.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Thursday that the international community should respond with force if allegations that the Syrian government used chemical weapons in a deadly attack on the outskirts of the capital Damascus are confirmed.

“There would have to be reaction with force in Syria from the international community, but there is no question of sending troops on the ground,” Fabius told French television network BFM.

Fabius’ strong statement came after the United Nations Security Council expressed its deep concern over allegations chemical weapons had been used in a pre-dawn attack on Damascus’ eastern suburbs Wednesday, adding that the incident needed “clarity”. While the council welcomed UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s call for an immediate investigation into the reports, it did not explicitly request that a 20-member UN inspection team already in Syria visit the site.

‘There must be a reaction,’ Fabius says

The inspection team, which arrived in the country four days ago to probe previous claims over the use of chemical weapons, does not have the authority to visit the site of Syria’s latest alleged attack unless a formal request is made.

If the UN Security Council fails to reach a decision on Syria, Fabius added that it would be done “in other ways,” however did not elaborate on the issue.

Syrian opposition activists have accused government forces of using deadly gas in Wednesday’s assault on the capital’s eastern suburbs of Ain Tarma, Zamalka and Jobar, which they estimate claimed the lives of between 500 and 1,300 people.

The government has firmly denied the allegations, with Information Minister Omran Zoabi calling them “illogical and fabricated”.

Despite mounting pressure on the UN, immediate international action is likely to be limited, with world powers deeply divided over how to best end Syria's more than two-year-old conflict.

'Foam in their mouths'

If it is confirmed that chemical weapons were used in Wednesday’s bombardment, it would be the worst such attack since the 1980s.

Doctors interviewed described symptoms they believe point to sarin gas, one of the agents Western powers accuse Damascus of having in an undeclared chemical weapons stockpile.

A nurse at Douma Emergency Collection facility, Bayan Baker, said: “Many of the casualties are women and children. They arrived with their pupils constricted, cold limbs and foam in their mouths. The doctors say these are typical symptoms of nerve gas victims.”

Extensive amateur video and photographs appeared on the Internet showing victims choking, some foaming at the mouth.

A video purportedly shot in the Kafr Batna neighbourhood showed a room filled with more than 90 bodies, many of them children and a few women and elderly men. Most of the bodies appeared ashen or pale but with no visible injuries.

Other footage showed doctors treating people in makeshift clinics. One video showed the bodies of a dozen people lying on the floor of a clinic. A voice-over said they were members of a single family. In a corridor outside lay another five bodies.

Syria is one of just a handful of countries that are not party to the international treaty that bans chemical weapons, and Western nations believe it has caches of undeclared mustard gas, sarin and VX nerve agents.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-08-22

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