World Bulletin/News Desk
U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria's civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday.
The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.
"Our investigators have been in neighbouring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated," Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television.
"This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities," she added, speaking in Italian.
Del Ponte, a former Swiss attorney-general who also served as prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, gave no details as to when or where sarin may have been used.
The Geneva-based inquiry into war crimes and other human rights violations is separate from an investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria instigated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which has since stalled.
President Bashar al-Assad's government and the rebels accuse each another of carrying out three chemical weapon attacks, one near Aleppo and another near Damascus, both in March, and another in Homs in December.
The civil war began with anti-government protests in March 2011. The conflict has now claimed an estimated 70,000 lives and forced 1.2 million Syrian refugees to flee.
The United States has said it has "varying degrees of confidence" that sarin has been used by Syria's government on its people.
President Barack Obama last year declared that the use or deployment of chemical weapons by Assad would cross a "red line".
REBELS REJECT THE ACCUSATION
The rebel Free Syrian Army (FSA) has rejected claims by UN investigators that it is likely to have used chemical weapons, AL Jazeera reported. Saleem Edris, FSA chief of staff, said he considered the remarks a "huge injustice" and "provocation" to the Syrian people.
Later on Monday, the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) announced it would hold a symposium on the use of chemical weapons in Syria on Tuesday in Istanbul, with a lawyer and doctor who are members of the group.
Adnan Sillo, a defector from the Syrian military who had previously headed a chemical warfare unit, will also be speaking. Sarin is a powerful neurotoxin developed by Nazi scientists in the 1930s.
A Japanese cult used sarin in two attacks in the 1990s. Originally developed as a pesticide, it was used to deadly effect in the 1988 raid on the Kurdish village of Halabja in northern Iraq.
The gas works by being inhaled or absorbed through the skin and kills by crippling the nervous system.
Symptoms include nausea and violent headaches, blurred or tunnel vision, drooling, muscular convulsions, respiratory arrest, loss of consciousness and then death, according to the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.
In high doses, sarin paralyses the muscles around the lungs and prevents chemicals from "switching off" the body's secretions, so victims suffocate or drown as their lungs fill with mucus and saliva.
Even a tiny dose of sarin - which, like other nerve gases such as soman, tabun and VX, is odourless, colourless and tasteless - can be deadly if it enters the respiratory system, or if a drop comes into contact with the skin.
UN distances itself from claim
U.N. war crimes investigators have reached no conclusions on whether any side in the Syrian war has used chemical weapons, the inquiry commission said on Monday, playing down a suggestion from one of the team that rebel forces had done so.
"The independent international Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic wishes to clarify that it has not reached conclusive findings as to the use of chemical weapons in Syria by any parties to the conflict," it said in a statement.
The Geneva-based inquiry into war crimes and other human rights violations led by Brazilian expert Paulo Pinheiro is separate from an investigation of the alleged use of chemical weapons instigated by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Ban's office is still trying to negotiate entry into Syria to investigate and collect samples.
Last Mod: 06 Mayıs 2013, 17:55