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US probes new claims of chemical weapons use in Syria

© AFP

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-22

The United States has “indications” that the toxic chemical chlorine was used in an attack in Syria earlier this month and is looking into allegations that the Syrian government was responsible, the State Department said on Monday.

The news came as Syrian President Bashar al Assad announced that the country is to hold a presidential election on June 3, which State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki slammed as “a parody of democracy.”

“We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical” in the rebel-held town of Kfar Zeita, Psaki said.

“We are examining allegations that the government was responsible,” she said. “Obviously there needs to be an investigation of what’s happened here.”

The allegations from the US follow comments from France’s President François Hollande, who said he suspected Syria was still using chemical weapons but that he had no proof.

Syrian opposition activists have claimed that helicopters dumped chlorine gas on Kfar Zeita on April 11 and 12. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, told ABC television’s “This Week” on April 13 that the attack was “unsubstantiated.”

Claims ‘unsubstantiated’

Psaki said chlorine was not one of the priority one or two chemicals Syria declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) under a Russian-US agreement for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile.

Psaki said the United States was still trying to determine the facts.

“We take all allegations of the use of chemicals in combat use very seriously,” she said.” We’ll work with the OPCW, who is obviously overseeing the implementation, and determine if any violation occurred.”

A UN inquiry found in December that sarin gas had likely been used in Jobar, on the outskirts of Syria’s capital Damascus, in August and in several other locations, including in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, where hundreds of people were killed.

The Ghouta attack caused global outrage and a US threat of military strikes that was dropped after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pledged to destroy his chemical weapons arsenal.

The Syrian government failed to meet a February 5th deadline to move all of its declared chemical substances and precursors, some 1,300 tonnes, out of the country. It has since agreed to remove the weapons by late April.

‘War crimes’

Some US lawmakers who have expressed deep scepticism about the chemical weapons agreement said the report, if verified, backed their long-standing call for President Barack Obama’s administration to provide more support for the Syrian rebels.

Republican US Senator John McCain of Arizona, a frequent critic of Obama’s foreign policy, said in a statement, “The Assad regime continues to carry out war crimes in its slaughter of innocent men, women, and children. Its breach of the chemical weapons agreement should surprise no one, and unless the Obama administration is willing to force a price for such behaviour, we should only expect more atrocities to come.”

Rebel activists posted photographs and video they said showed an improvised chlorine bomb to back up their claims about Kfar Zeita. Meanwhile, Assad’s government has accused rebels of using the chemical.

The ongoing crisis in Syria has claimed the lives of 150,000 people since it began three years, and over 2.5 million people have fled the violence in Syria.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

Date created : 2014-04-22

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