Evidence of chemical weapons use found in Syria

By Edith M. Lederer

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, April 18 2013 9:23 p.m. MDT

UNITED NATIONS — Britain and France have told the secretary-general they have reliable evidence that the Syrian government used chemical weapons near Aleppo, in Homs and possibly in Damascus, U.N. diplomats and officials say.

The British and French ambassadors told Ban Ki-moon in a letter on March 25 that soil samples and interviews with witnesses and opposition figures backed their belief that the government used chemical shells that had caused injuries and deaths, the diplomats and officials said.

They spoke on condition of anonymity because the letter has not been made public.

Syria asked Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on March 21 to investigate an alleged chemical weapons attack by rebels two days earlier on Khan al-Assal village in northern Aleppo province. The rebels blamed regime forces for the attack.

The following day, Britain and France asked the U.N. chief to investigate allegations of chemical weapons use in two locations in Khan al-Assal and the village of Ataybah in the vicinity of Damascus, all on March 19, as well as in Homs on Dec. 23.

Syrian soldiers were reportedly killed and injured in the Khan al-Assal incident but the British and French believe this was the result of a misfired Syrian government shell, the diplomats and officials said.

After examining the letters from Syria and the Europeans, the secretary-general appointed a team of chemical weapons experts to investigate the allegations in Khan al-Assal and in Homs, where there was the most evidence. But the Syrian government has so far refused to allow the experts to go anywhere but Khan al-Assal.

The secretary-general said Wednesday that the team of experts, nonetheless, would proceed with "its fact-finding activities." He said additional information has been requested from the three governments.

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