France has no absolute evidence on Syria chemical attack: Defense minister
The French defense minister has cast doubt on the veracity of accusations that the Syrian government has used the chemical agent chlorine in the country.
“We have some indications of possible chlorine use [in Syria], but we have no absolute confirmation,” Florence Parly told France Inter radio on Friday.
“So we, alongside the others, are working on trying to confirm this, as we clearly have to get the facts straight,” she added, without elaborating on who else was engaged in the confirmation effort.
Parly pointed to French President Emmanuel Macron’s position that any use of chemical weapons in Syria is a “red line” for Paris and noted that due “to the lack of certainty on what happened in Syria,” France is currently not able to say whether that red line has been crossed.
On Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian accused the Syrian government of using chlorine, saying “all indications show… that chlorine is used by the regime right now in Syria.”
He also called for caution, however, admitting that the evidence “wasn’t completely documented.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis says the United States has no evidence to confirm reports that the Syrian government used sarin against its civilians.
In January, pro-militant sources in Syria, the White Helmets and the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, claimed that the Syrian government had used chlorine gas against militants in northwestern Syria.
On Monday, the US and UK raised the issue at the UN Security Council, but the Syrian envoy rejected the allegations as “false and cheap.”
The Syrian diplomat said the US resorts to such “fabricated accusations” whenever it realizes that terrorist groups are in trouble in the face of any progress by the Syrian army.
Syria rejects fresh accusations by the US and the UK about Damascus using of chemical weapons at a UNSC meeting.
The Russian ambassador also rejected the claims as a “propagandistic campaign” by the Western media outlets and accused the US and Britain of using the issue to sabotage Moscow’s efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in Syria.
Since the beginning of the conflict in Syria in early 2011, the Western governments have on several occasions accused Syria of using chemical weapons against militants. Damascus has denied the allegation, saying it is meant to pile more pressure on the government forces and delay their success in the fight against terrorists.
Last year, the US and allies in Europe said Syria and Russia, an ally of Damascus in the fight against terror, used chemical weapons against militants in Khan Sheikhun in the province of Idlib. Moscow swiftly rejected the allegations, saying its fighter jets had in fact bombarded a depot in the area in which the militants had stored chemicals.
The Syrian government and allied fighters have managed to liberate most of the territories that used to be under the control of the militants for the past years.
Damascus still maintains that foreign governments, including the US, fanned the flames of militancy in Syria by providing weapons and training to certain groups of militants. The government says if it was not for the support of certain foreign states, the militancy could have not gone out of hand in such a devastating degree.
The seven-year war in Syria has killed more than 350,000 people, according to the United Nations’ estimates.