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France: 'Evidence' of chemicals

September 2, 2013

France’s Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault is to present evidence to top French lawmakers, alleging that Syria’s regime used chemical weapons in an east Damascus attack last month.

French Prime minsiter Jean-Marc Ayrault delivers a speech during the conference of the French ambassadors, on August 28, 2013 in Paris. Photo: PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images

France's Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault (pictured above) said on Monday he would give parliamentary leaders "all the elements at our disposal that were classified until now” about the "reality of this unacceptable attack."

Washington has said more than 1,400 people died in the alleged chemical weapons attack in an east Damascus suburb on August 21.

The “elements” that Ayrault referred to have already been published in French weekly, Le Journal du Dimanche. The newspaper revealed details of a declassified French intelligence document, which said Syria's chemical weapons arsenal included sarin, VX nerve agent and mustard gas.

Still no agreement on Syria attack

The newspaper also said the dossier itemized around 1,000 tons of chemical weapons making Syria the site of one of the largest such arsenals in the world.

A government source said top lawmakers would be given "evidence of different kinds that will allow the regime to be clearly identified as responsible for the August 21 chemical attack".

Ayrault was to present the findings ahead of a French National Assembly debate on Syria on Wednesday, but it was unclear whether his move would quieten calls from the opposition for a vote on whether to proceed to military action.

The French government has already rejected calls for a vote, but President Francois Hollande is coming under growing pressure to follow the example of Britain and the United States in seeking parliamentary approval to go to war.

Hollande's demands that punitive military action should be taken against President Bashar al-Assad's regime makes him the only Western leader to threaten a strike without a parliamentary vote on the issue.

As head of the armed forces, Hollande is not required to wait for a parliamentary nod on such a move. However, the decision by US President Barack Obama to wait for approval from Congress on an intervention has isolated the French president even further. The British parliament voted against Prime Minister David Cameron's call for military involvement last Thursday.

NATO head “personally convinced” about allegations

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said on Monday that “a firm international response” was needed to the alleged chemical weapons attack in east Damascus.

"We believe that these unspeakable actions which claimed the lives of hundreds of men, women and children cannot be ignored," Rasmussen told a news conference in Brussels.

“It would send, I would say, a dangerous signal to dictators all over the world if we stand idly by and don't react," he said. Rasmussen added that he saw no further role for NATO in the Syria crisis, beyond defending Turkey.

Germany continues to seek diplomatic resolution

The office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday she still hoped the United Nations could agree on a position and that the US Congress vote on military action after it reconvenes on September 9 had created more time for diplomacy that “should be put to use”.

Meanwhile, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said evidence presented by the United States, Britain and France was unconvincing. The Reuters news agency reported that Moscow is to seek dialogue with the US Congress on Syria to persuade lawmakers to take a “balanced position” on any intervention.

Samples taken from the site of the alleged chemical arms attack in east Damascus are currently being analysed by UN weapons inspectors at a laboratory in the Netherlands.

lw/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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