UN walks back claim chemical weapons used by Syrian rebels

The U.N. panel investigating claims of human rights abuses in Syria walked back on Monday reports that it has evidence of sarin use by the rebels seeking to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The clarification comes after panel member Carla Del Ponte told Swiss-Italian television on Sunday that U.N. experts have “strong, concrete suspicions, but not yet incontrovertible proof, of the use of sarin gas” by rebel groups. A growing number of countries – including Israel, France and Britain – say they believe government forces have used such weapons, which would violate President Obama's “red line” and could prompt greater U.S. involvement in the two-year-old civil war.

“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,” the U.N. said in a statement. “As a result, the Commission is not in a position to further comment on the allegations at this time.

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“The Chair of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, reminds all parties to the conflict that the use of chemical weapons is prohibited in all circumstances under customary international humanitarian law.”

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons and initially invited U.N. inspectors to probe a March attack in the village of Khan al-Asal near Aleppo, saying rebels used chemical weapons in that incident. The regime has refused to allow the inspectors to enter the country, however, after France and Britain demanded that they be allowed to investigate other reported sites of chemical weapons use, notably in the village of Ataybah near Damascus on March 19 and in Homs last December.



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