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UN watchdog finds traces of Syria sarin gas exposure

A fact-finding mission by the United Nations chemical weapons watchdog has found that some people in Syria may have been exposed to sarin or a sarin-like gas. Damascus has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons.

According to the monthly report released on Monday, the Hague-based Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is investigating 11 incidents of the use of toxic chemicals reported by the Syrian government.

The report didn't disclose the date or location of the 11 incidents, however.

"In one instance, the analysis of some blood samples indicates that individuals were at some point exposed to sarin or a sarin-like substance," said OPCW head Ahmet Uzumcu.

"Further investigation would be necessary to determine when or under what circumstances such exposure might have occurred," he added.

Previous fact-finding missions by the OPCW in Syria have pointed to the use of chlorine and mustard gas.

Handing over chemical weapons

President Bashar al-Assad's regime and rebel forces have both accused each other of using a chemical arsenal in the four-year war that has killed more than 250,000 people.

Following a sarin attack outside Damascus in August 2013 - which much of the international community blamed on Assad's government - the regime agreed to turn in its chemical weapons.

Syria has so far handed over some 1,300 tons of chemical weapons to the OPCW, including mustard gas and sarin.

Syria denies accusations

The OPCW's most recent findings came ahead of a UN Security Council meeting which is due to discuss Syria's chemical weapons on Tuesday.

In November, Damascus rejected "the false accusations against Syria with respect to its supposed use of chlorine as a weapon in military operations."

"We wish here to state categorically that we have never used chlorine or any other toxic chemicals during any incidents or any other operations in the Syrian Arab Republic since the beginning of the crisis and up to this very day," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad told the OPCW.

ksb/cmk (Reuters, AFP)

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