Adam Gerics protests against U.S. intervention in Syria on Monday in front of Rep. Dan Kildee's office in Flint, Mich. France announced Tuesday it will put forward a resolution in the U.N. Security Council aimed at forcing Syria to dismantle its chemical weapons program, seizing on a diplomatic opening from Syrian ally Russia in an effort to stave off military action. (Michelle Tessier / AP)
Rights group: Syrian regime behind chemical attack
A leading international human rights group said Tuesday that evidence strongly suggests Syrian government forces fired rockets with warheads containing a nerve agent — most likely sarin — into a Damascus suburb in August, killing hundreds of people.
The report by Human Rights Watch was the latest voice to condemn Syrian President Bashar Assad's government for the alleged chemical attack on the sprawling, rebel-held Ghouta suburb on Aug. 21.
The attack brought the United States to the brink of a military intervention the Syrian civil war, now in its third year.
The New York-based group said it examined documents from the alleged chemical attack on Ghouta, and that the nerve agent used was "most likely, sarin."
The group said its activists were unable to go to Ghouta to collect remnants of weapons, environmental and bodily samples such as hair and blood to test for the chemical agent but that they sought technical advice from an expert on the detection and effects of chemical warfare agents.
To support its claims, the rights group said it analyzed witness accounts and "the type of rockets and launchers used" in the attack. HRW also said its experts studied documented medical symptoms of the victims and analyzed activist videos posted on the Internet after the attack.
Human Rights Watch released its conclusions in a 22-page report Tuesday.
"This evidence strongly suggests that Syrian government troops launched rockets carrying chemical warheads into the Damascus suburbs that terrible morning," said Peter Bouckaert, HRW's emergencies director.
Symptoms of the victims from the attack "provide telltale evidence about the weapon systems used," he added.
Assad and officials from his government have denied allegations that their forces used chemical agents and have blamed the Syrian rebels, whom they call terrorists, for staging the attack to gain international sympathy. — AP
PARIS — France announced Tuesday it will put forward a resolution in the U.N. Security Council aimed at forcing Syria to ultimately dismantle its chemical weapons program, seizing on a diplomatic opening from Syrian ally Russia amid Western threats of force against President Bashar Assad’s regime.
France, a permanent member of the 15-nation council, will start the resolution process on Tuesday under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which is militarily enforceable, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters at a quickly arranged news conference.
The proposal would also condemn a chemical weapons attack near Damascus on Aug. 21 that Western powers allege was carried out by Assad’s regime — a claim he has denied.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Assad could resolve the crisis by surrendering control of his chemical arsenal to the international community. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded by promising to push Syria to place its chemical weapons under international control and then dismantle them quickly, to avert U.S. strikes.
Syria quickly welcomed the Russian proposal — though its level of commitment isn’t fully clear — and China too expressed support.
Fabius said the French resolution, based on five points, would demand that Syria bring fully to light its chemical weapons program, place it under international control, and dismantle it. A violation of that commitment, he said, would carry “very serious consequences.” The resolution would also seek to bring to justice the perpetrators of the Aug. 21 attack that killed hundreds.
Fabius said he expected a “nearly immediate” commitment from Syria. He said Russia had information about Damascus’ chemical weapons stockpile, and expressed hope that this time a tough resolution on Syria would not be blocked — an allusion to a string of efforts led by Western powers at the U.N. body in recent months that were blocked by Russia and China.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said of the Russian proposal: “As long as it eases the tension and helps maintain Syrian and regional peace and stability, and helps politically settle the issue, the global community should consider it positively.”
German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, quoted in an interview published Tuesday in Die Zeit newspaper, called the proposal a “good suggestion” but said “credible action … not only words” was needed.
The Arab League chief has expressed support for Russia's proposal. Nabil Elaraby told reporters on Tuesday that the Arab League has been always in favor of a "political resolution." He added, "thank God."
With its initiative at the United Nations, France is eager to seize on Russia’s “overture,” Fabius said, while expressing caution that French authorities “don’t want to fall into a trap” that could allow Assad’s regime to skirt accountability.
“We do not want this to be used as a diversion,” Fabius said. “It is by accepting these precise conditions that we will judge the credibility of the intentions expressed yesterday.”
Earlier, on French radio Europe-1, Fabius trumpeted Western pressure for leading to a “turnaround” in Russia’s position.
“At first the Russians denied there was a chemical weapons stockpile in Syria. Then, they denied a chemical attack. So, they have changed — very good!” he said.
“Why did the Russians change? I think there are two main reasons,” Fabius added. “One is that our firmness is paying off, and secondly, they’ve realized the proof of chemical weapons is increasingly overwhelming.”
Fabius also warned that finding and destroying “more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons” would be very difficult and would require international verification amid Syria’s civil war. He reiterated France’s position that Assad must leave power: “We can’t imagine that someone who was responsible for 110,000 dead, it is said, can stay in power forever.”
Jamey Keaten in Paris, David Rising in Berlin and Christopher Bodeen in Beijing contributed to this report.