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France says Syria has used nerve gas in fighting

PARIS — France announced Tuesday that French laboratory tests had confirmed that sarin nerve gas had been used "multiple times" in Syria but only "in a localized way." French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that in one case, at least, "there is no doubt it was the regime and its accomplices" that used the gas.

In a statement, Fabius said samples of body fluids taken from victims in Syria and tested at a French laboratory — including urine samples carried out of Syria by French reporters — "prove the presence of sarin," a poisonous nerve gas.

Fabius handed France's evidence to Ake Sellstrom, the chief of the mission of inquiry appointed by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon. Britain and France have asked Ban to investigate various charges of the use of chemical weapons in Syria.

The French announcement offered the clearest evidence so far that sarin had been used in the Syria conflict, which has lasted more than two years and left more than 80,000 people dead. Israeli officials have cited but not revealed evidence that the government of President Bashar Assad has repeatedly used chemical weapons, and the White House has said that U.S. intelligence agencies have determined with varying degrees of confidence that it used sarin on a small scale.

U.N. investigators in Geneva on Tuesday also reported the likely use of chemical weapons in Syria, in a report focusing on "new levels of brutality."

The investigators' report cited for the first time the government's use of thermobaric bombs, which scatter a cloud of explosive particles before detonating, sending a devastating blast of pressure and extreme heat that incinerates those caught in the blast and sucks the oxygen from the lungs of people in the vicinity. It said the bombs were used in March in the fierce struggle for the town of Qusair, near the Lebanon border.

"Syria is in free fall," Paulo Pinheiro, the head of a commission of inquiry on the hostilities in Syria, told the U.N. Human Rights Council. "Crimes that shock the conscience have become a daily reality."

France says Syria has used nerve gas in fighting 06/04/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 1:21am]
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