The Sidney Morning Herald
The developments come when at least 10 people have been killed in shelling on the town of Douma, north-east of the capital Damascus, and renewed fighting in other areas on Saturday.
”I want to confirm that statements by the US Secretary of State and British government are inconsistent with reality and a barefaced lie,” Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zohbi said in an interview with the Kremlin-funded Russia Today TV network.
”I want to stress one more time that Syria would never use chemical weapons – not only because of its adherence to the international law and rules of leading war, but because of humanitarian and moral issues.”
United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon has called on Syria to approve a UN mission of inspectors to probe the alleged use of deadly chemicals in the spiraling conflict that erupted in March 2011. <strong <span But Mr Zohbi told RT that Damascus could not trust UN inspectors from Britain and the United States. ”We … do not trust their qualifications,” he said. ”Their aim is to juggle with facts.” But he said Syria would accept Russian inspectors.
[After what happened in Baghdad, who can blame them. The United Nations is completely untrustworthy… Editorial comment by Susan Lindauer]
Along with China, Russia has blocked several UN Security Council draft resolutions threatening sanctions against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
US President Barack Obama warned Syria on Friday that using chemical weapons would be a ”game changer,” after the US, Israel and Britain cited signs that Dr Assad’s regime attacked with the deadly agent sarin.
[Facts on the ground reveal the target was a Syrian military outpost filled with President Assad’s own soldiers. The bombs contained weaponized chlorine– NOT SARIN. The dead were 26 Syrian Soldiers.– Added by Susan Lindauer]
But President Obama said Washington must act prudently, and establish if, how and when such arms might have been used, promising a ”vigorous” US and international probe into the reports.
Russia warned against using the reports for a military intervention.
”We must check the information immediately and in conformity with international criteria, and not use it to achieve other objectives,” Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said on Saturday.
The Syrian opposition [responsible for the weaponized chlorine attack that killed 26 soldiers working for Assad] has stepped up pressure by urging the UN Security Council to take immediate steps, possibly even by imposing a no-fly zone on Syria . . . .
Evidence” of Syria chemical weapons not up to U.N. standard
(Reuters) – Assertions of chemical weapon use in Syria by Western and Israeli officials citing photos, sporadic shelling and traces of toxins do not meet the standard of proof needed for a U.N. team of experts waiting to gather their own field evidence.
Weapons inspectors will only determine whether banned chemical agents were used in the two-year-old conflict if they are able to access sites and take soil, blood, urine or tissue samples and examine them in certified.
That type of evidence has not been presented by governments and intelligence agencies accusing Syria of using chemical weapons against insurgents.
“This is the only basis on which the OPCW would provide a formal assessment of whether chemical weapons have been used,” said Michael Luhan, a spokesman for the Hague-based OPCW.
With Syria blocking the U.N. mission, it is unlikely they will gain that type of access any time soon.
The head of the U.N. inspection mission, Swedish scientist Ake Sellstrom, will meet U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on Monday.
The United Nations wrote to the Syrian government again on Thursday to push for unconditional and unfettered access for the U.N. investigators, Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirky told reporters on Friday.
“The Secretary-General urges the Syrian government to respond swiftly and favorably so that this mission can carry out its work in Syria,” Nesirky said. “You need to be able to go into Syria to be able to do that investigation properly.”
“In the meantime the members of that team have been collating and analyzing the evidence and information that is available to date from outside,” he said, adding that there was a concern “about the degradation of evidence” within Syria.
The White House on Thursday said the U.S. intelligence community has assessed with varying degrees of confidence that the chemical agent sarin was used by forces allied with President Bashar al-Assad. But it noted that “the chain of custody is not clear.”
QUESTIONS AROUND ‘PHYSIOLOGICAL’ SAMPLES
The Israeli military this week suggested Syrian forces used sarin and showed reporters pictures of a body with symptoms indicating the nerve gas was the cause of death.
[See video on this blog of Syrian Rebels testing Chemical weapons on rabbits.]
Ralf Trapp, an independent consultant on chemical and biological weapons control, said, “There is a limit to what you can extract from photograph evidence alone. What you really need is to get information from on the ground, to gather physical evidence and to talk to witnesses as well as medical staff who treated victims.”
Sarin is a fast-acting nerve agent that was originally developed in 1938 in <a title=”Full coverage of Germany” <href=”http://www.reuters.com/places/germany” target=”_blank” Germany as a pesticide. It is a clear, colorless, tasteless and odorless liquid that can evaporate quickly into a gas and spread into the environment, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Because it evaporates so quickly, sarin presents an immediate but short-lived threat.
Sean Kaufman of the Center for Public Health Preparedness and Research at Emory University, a former biodefense expert for the CDC, said people who have been exposed to sarin most typically die or recover fully. Testing for sarin, he said, requires access to the environment where the nerve agent was used or the clothing of someone who was exposed.
The White House, which has called the use of chemicals weapons in Syria a “red line” for possible military intervention, said its assessment was partly based on “physiological” samples. But a White House official speaking on condition of anonymity declined to detail the evidence. It is unclear who supplied it.
Even if samples were made available to the OPCW by those making the assertions, the organisation could not use them.
“The OPCW would never get involved in testing samples that our own inspectors don’t gather in the field because we need to maintain chain of custody of samples from the field to the lab to ensure their integrity,” said Luhan.
Established to enforce the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans the use of toxic agents in warfare, the OPCW has exhaustive rules on how inspectors collect and handle evidence, starting with the sealing of a site like a crime scene.
Multiple samples must be taken and there need to be “blank” samples from unexposed matter and tissue, to set a baseline against which levels of contamination could be determined.
The samples would be split, sealed and flown in dark, cooled air transports to up to three certified laboratories, including one at the OPCW’s headquarters in The Hague.
A team of 15 experts, put together in response to a request from the U.N. Secretary General to investigate the claims, has been on standby in Cyprus for nearly three weeks.
Headed by Sellstrom, it includes analytical chemists and World Health Organisation experts on the medical effects of exposure to toxins.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Giles Elgood, Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)
Obama shows no rush to act on Syria chemical arms evidence
Reuters) – President Barack Obama warned Syria on Friday that its use of chemical weapons would be a “game changer” for the United States, but made clear he was in no rush to intervene in the civil war there on the basis of evidence he said was still preliminary.
Speaking a day after the disclosure of U.S. intelligence that <span <a Syria had likely used chemical weapons against its own people, Obama talked tough while calling for patience as he sought to fend off pressure for a swift response against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.