France: Syrian govt uses nerve gas

France reiterates the use of chemical weapons in Syria reported by UN though its own investigation.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Picture: AFP

AMMAN - France said on Tuesday it had performed tests that proved President Bashar al-Assad's forces had used nerve gas in Syria's civil war, a "red line" that the United States and other countries have repeatedly said would demand a response.

Washington separately said it would deploy Patriot missiles and F16 fighter jets to Syria's neighbour Jordan for a military exercise and perhaps longer. Russia, Assad's main international backer, criticised the move and accused the West of inflaming the conflict by sending arms to the war zone.

If left in Jordan, Patriot missiles could be used to protect the country - a Sunni Muslim US ally - against any possible missile attack as the Syrian war threatens to widen into a more regional, sectarian conflict.

US has said for months it believes Assad's forces probably used chemical weapons, but still needed to study the evidence. "We need more information" about claims of such use, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

French officials said their tests were the first that complied with international standards and proved that chemical weapons were used in Syria.

Speaking on France 2 television, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Paris had tested samples collected in Syria, and that some proved that the Syrian government had used sarin, the deadly nerve agent Saddam Hussein used in Iraq.

The results were handed to the head of a UN chemical weapons investigation team on Tuesday in Paris, Fabius said.

A French diplomatic source said samples included blood and urine from victims, taken after a government helicopter bombed Saraqib near the northern city of Idlib on April 29.

The mounting evidence of the use of poison gas poses a dilemma for Western countries including the United States, which have promised to act if such weapons are used but have no obvious path for a military intervention.

PATRIOTS

Moscow objected vociferously last year when NATO deployed US, German and Dutch Patriot missile batteries in Turkey on the Syrian border. Russia has said it would send its own anti-aircraft missile system, the S-300, to Assad.

Washington and Moscow have called a peace conference for this month, the first time in a year the superpowers supporting opposite sides in the civil war have tried to find a diplomatic solution to end it.

Both sides have been accused of ever more horrific atrocities. Millions of people have been driven from their homes, sectarian bloodshed has spread to Lebanon and Iraq, Israel has bombed Damascus and civil unrest has swept Turkey.

RED LINE CROSSED?

Syria has not signed up to an international treaty banning the use of chemical weapons but has said it would never use them in an internal conflict.

Both the Syrian government and the rebels accuse each other of using chemical weapons, although Washington and other Western countries say they doubt the rebels have done so.

The French diplomatic source said Paris hoped the results of its chemical tests would help UN investigators push their case to enter Syria. On Tuesday UN human rights team revealed that it had evidence that chemical weapons were used by Assad military during the unrest.

Syrian troops backed by Hezbollah guerrillas have besieged the rebel-held town which controls vital supply routes from Lebanon and access between Damascus and the coastal heartland of Assad's minority Alawite sect.

Opposition leaders called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to allow people from Qusair to flee to Lebanon.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said the Syrian government had said it was willing to grant the agency access to Qusair once military operations there were ended.