France revives debate about possible western military intervention in Syria
Britain declines to say that proof chemical weapons were used would be trigger for action
French foreign minister Laurent Fabius: Either we decide not to react, or we react, including in an armed manner, where the gas is produced and stocked. [But] we’re not there yet.” Photograph: Muhammad Hamed/Reuters
By stating categorically that the regime of President Bashar al-Assad has used chemical weapons against its own people, France has revived the debate over possible military intervention by western powers in Syria.
Syria has “without contest” crossed the “red line” established by the US and European powers, the French foreign minister Laurent Fabius said on Tuesday night, elaborating on the communique in which he stated that “France has the certainty that sarin gas has been used repeatedly in Syria in a localised manner”.
A UN report said chemical weapons had been used at least four times in the Syrian war. But it did not say whether the regime or the rebels were responsible. By laying blame on the regime, France has increased pressure on US and European leaders to take action.
Yet Mr Fabius was cautious. “Either we decide not to react, or we react, including in an armed manner, where the gas is produced and stocked. [But] we’re not there yet,” he said.
Britain, meanwhile, declined to say that it would be a trigger for international action if there was proof chemical weapons had been used. Downing Street said an investigation by the UN into allegations that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons against its own people must be allowed to finish. It had received both “information and evidence” that the Assad regime had deployed these weapons, though it did not say how it came by this information.
“There is a growing body of persuasive evidence that the regime has used and continues to use [them] but there is a need to go through the UN. I think people would expect us to do that in a sensitive situation such as this,” Downing Street said.
The White House press secretary also said more evidence was necessary to confirm the French reports.
Mr Fabius conveyed the results of the French analyses to Ake Sellstrom, the Swedish professor in charge of the UN mission of inquiry, which has not been allowed to enter Syria.
Speaking of a helicopter attack at Saraqib, central Syria, at the end of April, Mr Fabius said: “There is no doubt that it’s the regime and its accomplices, since we have the entire chain, from the moment the attack took place, the moment when people were killed, when the samples were taken and we had them analysed.” The rebels do not have helicopters.
The other samples tested by the French government came from Jobar, in the suburbs of Damascus, and were collected by journalists from Le Monde newspaper in mid-April.
“Geneva 2” talks, the successor to negotiations started a year ago, were supposed to have taken place this month, but have been postponed until July.
The French revelations could make it more difficult to pursue a diplomatic solution to the war, in which some 100,000 people have died.
Diplomats believe that President Assad’s regime has gradually escalated its actions, from the use of artillery to armour to aerial bombardment , scud missiles and chemical weapons, to test the response of western powers.