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France to strike if Syria uses chemical weapons

February 14, 2018

French President Emmanuel Macron has warned the Syrian regime that the use of chemical weapons will result in French retaliation. The Syrian government has reponded saying it does not possess such weapons.

A civil defence member breathes through an oxygen mask, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib.
Image: Reuters/A. Abdullah

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that "France will strike" if chemical weapons are used against civilians in Syria, but that he was yet to see proof of their use.

Macron said last May that the use of chemical weapons would represent a "red line."

Macron's comments to reporters

  • "On chemical weapons, I set a red line and I reaffirm that red line."
  • "If we have proven evidence that chemical weapons proscribed in treaties are used, we will strike the place where they are made."
  • "Today, our agencies, our armed forces have not established that chemical weapons, as set out in treaties, have been used against the civilian population."

Read more: France: 'All indications' Syrian regime is using chorine gas

The Syrian government on Wednesday denied that it possessed chemical weapons and branded them as "immoral and unacceptable," the state news agency SANA reported.

"Syria's government categorically denies possessing ... chemical weapons," Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad said. "We consider the use of such arms as immoral and unacceptable, whatever the context," he added.


Enough red lines'

The vice-president of the Syria Civil Defence, or "White Helmets," responded on Tuesday, saying France should stop talking about red lines and focus on real action.

"Use another word because all the red lines have been crossed and the (Syrians) are disappointed with these words," Abdulrahman Almawwas told reporters in Paris.

Read more: Syrian civilians treated for 'suffocation' after Saraqeb airstrikes

Spotlight on chemical weapons: In a telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, Macron expressed concern over signs that chlorine bombs had been used against civilians in Syria. Last week, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told local broadcaster BFM TV that "all indications show us today that the Syrian regime is using chlorine gas at the moment."

Do red lines mean anything? A red line has commonly been used among diplomats as a boundary or a limit that should not be crossed particularly in conflict. Former US President Barack Obama set out a red line for Syria in 2012, when he warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that the use, or even the movement, of chemical weapons would trigger US military reprisals. But Obama opted out of military reprisal and secured an agreement to dismantle the Syrian chemical arsenal.  

Have chemical weapons been used in Syria? 

  • A joint investigation team comprising experts from the United Nations and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons concluded that the Syrian government used chlorine gas in at least two attacks in 2014 and 2015. They also claim that the Syrian regime used the nerve agent sarin in an aerial attack on Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, 2017 that killed about 100 people and affected about 200 others.
  • On January 13, 2018 there was a suspected chlorine attack in an area between Douma and Harasta in Eastern Ghouta, using ground-launched rockets, caused a small number of civilians to be hospitalized for breathing difficulties, according to medics and human rights groups.
  • On January 22: A suspected chlorine attack in Douma, led to at least 21 cases of respiratory problems, including children, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.
  • On February 5, a bomb believed to contain chlorine was dropped from a helicopter on Saraqeb, in the largely jihadist-controlled northwestern province of Idlib, leading to cases of breathing difficulties said the Syrian Observatory of Human Rights.
A patient in a hospital in Syria after a poison gas attack.
Woman breathes through oxygen mask in a Syrian hospital,Image: Reuters/A. Ismail

av/aw (Reuters, AFP)