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Middle East

Raw data suggests Syria used chlorine gas in attacks: Kerry

  • U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during his press conference after the "Friends of Syria Meeting" at the Foreign Office in London, Thursday, May 15, 2014. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham, Pool)

LONDON / BEIRUT: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that he had seen “raw data” suggesting Syrian government forces had used chlorine gas in the country’s civil war, but added it had not been verified.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said Syria may have used chemical weapons involving chlorine in 14 attacks in recent months.

“I have seen the raw data that suggests that there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war,” Kerry told reporters in London.

“If it has, and it could be proven, then that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to.”

Kerry, who earlier met foreign ministers from European Union and Gulf Arab countries from the Friends of Syria group opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, said the data had not been verified.

“It has been made clear by President Obama and others that use would result in consequences,” Kerry said, adding: “We’re not going to pin ourselves down to a precise time, date, manner of action, but there will be consequences.”

France is also pressing the U.N. to refer the 3-year-old civil war in Syria to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Syria has promised to hand over or destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal, although it still possesses roughly 7.5 percent of declared chemicals and has yet to destroy 12 production and storage facilities.

The U.S. agreed with its allies to “redouble efforts” to support the moderate opposition and is willing to consider funneling aid directly to civilians in besieged areas using humanitarian agencies instead of the U.N., Kerry said.

Humanitarian agencies complain that despite multiple requests the U.N. has so far failed to share its methods in identifying those most in need and monitoring where its aid goes after delivery.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has demanded that the Security Council act to ensure that the warring parties adhere to U.N. demands for aid access. Kerry too expressed frustration with the worsening humanitarian crisis.

“We are open to anything that will get the aid to the people, and we are very frustrated with the current process. It is not getting to people,” Kerry said.

Australia, Luxembourg and Jordan say the war’s belligerents have ignored a U.N. resolution adopted in February that demands greater U.N. humanitarian access to Syrians and are drafting a second resolution to call for further measures.

Meanwhile, the opposition National Coalition received a diplomatic boost as Britain announced it had upgraded the status of its London office to a mission.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was “in recognition of the strength of our partnership” with the Coalition, headed by Ahmad Jarba.

Britain will also provide an extra 30 million pounds ($50 million) in “practical support” for the opposition, Hague said.

Kerry declined to say whether ramping up support for the opposition meant providing vetted rebel groups with portable surface-to-air missiles to stop government air attacks.

“I’m not going to discuss ... specific weapons,” Kerry said. “But I will say that out of today’s meeting every facet of what can be done is going to be ramped up.”

He added that Western and Gulf allies would meet in the coming days to discuss ways of increasing support for the opposition.

The Friends of Syria meanwhile rejected the upcoming Syrian presidential election as illegitimate, saying that “Assad’s staged elections are a farce – they are an insult [and] they are flawed.”

In Syria, a massive car bomb ripped through a crowded garage near a rebel-held border crossing between Syria and Turkey, killing at least 43, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human rights said. The anti-government group also said the blast also wounded more than 80.

No group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s blast.

An amateur video posted online showed women, men and children at the scene of the explosion near the Bab al-Salameh border crossing. In another video posted online by activists, burned-out cars are seen in the area near the crossing and the site of the attack, as people walk pass pools of blood, with clothes and other personal belongings scattered all around.

People cross the border at Bab al-Salameh on foot, so the garage was filled with vehicles transporting people to or from the crossing.

Rebels captured the border crossing on the Syrian side in July 2012, opening a key transit point for people and supplies. But the area has seen an increase in clashes and attacks between rebel groups fighting for control of the crossing in recent months.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 16, 2014, on page 1.
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Summary

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Thursday that he had seen "raw data" suggesting Syrian government forces had used chlorine gas in the country's civil war, but added it had not been verified.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said Syria may have used chemical weapons involving chlorine in 14 attacks in recent months.

Kerry, who earlier met foreign ministers from European Union and Gulf Arab countries from the Friends of Syria group opposed to Syrian President Bashar Assad, said the data had not been verified.

Syria has promised to hand over or destroy its entire chemical weapons arsenal, although it still possesses roughly 7.5 percent of declared chemicals and has yet to destroy 12 production and storage facilities.

Britain will also provide an extra 30 million pounds ($50 million) in "practical support" for the opposition, Hague said.

Kerry declined to say whether ramping up support for the opposition meant providing vetted rebel groups with portable surface-to-air missiles to stop government air attacks.


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